Publishing sales stayed roughly flat in the first nine months of 2023, inching up 0.8% over the comparable period in 2022 at the 1,225 publishers that report to the Association of American Publishers' monthly StatShot program.

Modest increases in sales of adult books and higher educational course materials during the period—of 1.0% and 3.6%, respectively—helped offset a 4.8% drop in sales of children's and young adult books. But perhaps the most significant factor in providing a lift to net sales has been a 15.4% drop in returns to through September, and is an encouraging sign that retailers have largely reduced excess inventory.

In other categories, sales of books from religious presses and university presses both rose in the first three quarters, by 7.5% and 5.8% respectively, while sales of professional books dropped 2.1%.

In terms of September, overall publisher sales for the month were not just roughly, but literally, flat. (By September of last year, the Covid sales bump was finishing its long tapering off, with sales patterns finally returning to something resembling normal following a two-year pandemic high.)

A 21.7% drop in overall returns helped offset a 4.4% drop in adult book sales in the month, spurred on by a whopping 15.7% drop in trade paperback sales despite a respectable 8.2% jump in hardcover sales. The hollowing out of the mass market category continues, with adult MMP sales dropping 40.3% in the month. Digital audio was the only adult format besides hardcover to see a positive change, up 2.2%.

In the children's/YA segment in September, gains in most categories, including a 15.7% jump in paperback sales, and a 23.6% drop in returns, led to a 5.1% increase in segment sales over September 2022.

Sales were up 12.6% at religious presses in the month and 10.2% at university presses. Higher ed course materials creeped up 0.7%, and sales of professional books were up 1.4% in September.