After two years of surprisingly strong sales during the pandemic, unit sales of print books fell 6.5% in 2022 compared to 2021 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Units sales totaled 788.7 million last year, down from 843.1 million in 2021. The decline was not a surprise: many in the industry had predicted that as Covid lockdowns were lifted and more entertainment and travel options opened up, interest in reading would fall. Still, print unit sales in 2022 were 11.8% above those from 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.
Two pandemic-related trends contributed to the sales decline. Discovery of new books, which was made more difficult in 2020 when physical bookstores were shut down, continued to be a problem last year as publishers struggle to find ways to bring new titles to the attention of readers. As a result, frontlist sales declined 10.5% in 2022, while backlist sales fell a more moderate 3.7%, according to BookScan. Sales of hardcovers, likely hurt by rising prices (prompted in part by supply chain problems), fell 10.4%, while trade paperback sales fell only 2.4%. Trade paperbacks accounted for 60% of unit sales in 2022, up from 57% in 2021, while hardcovers’ share of the market declined from 33% in 2021 to 30% last year.
Adult fiction was the only one of the major categories to have a sales increase last year over 2021, with print unit sales up 8.5%. There is no mystery as to why adult fiction outperformed the rest of trade publishing: BookTok continues to drive sales for numerous fiction authors, and especially for Colleen Hoover. The prolific novelist had the three top-selling books of 2022 and five of the top 10 bestsellers.
Trade publishing’s largest category, adult nonfiction, had a 10.3% drop in sales last year to 289.6 million copies sold, compared to 322.8 million copies sold in 2021. James Clear’s Atomic Habits was the #1 nonfiction title again in 2022, selling 1.3 million copies, after topping the category in 2021 with 883,000 copies sold. The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama was second on the category list, selling nearly 734,000 copies.
Sales fell 8.8% last year in the industry’s second-largest category, juvenile fiction. Jeff Kinney’s newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, Diper Överlöde, was #1 in the category, selling more than 830,000 copies. Juvenile nonfiction sales were down 11.2% from 2021, and School Zone Big Preschool Workbook was the top title in the category, selling more than 310,000 copies.
In the young adult category, fiction sales slipped 0.2% 2022 in, while nonfiction dropped 4.6%. Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder sold more than 556,000 copies, making it the top YA fiction title last year. Life Skills for Teens was #1 in juvenile fiction, selling almost 147,000 copies.