The Australian book market posted strong results throughout the Covid-affected years of 2020 and 2021, and has continued this growth in 2022, with overall sales for the year to June 18 up 4.1% year-to-year, for a total of A$544 million, according to Nielsen BookData. Coming after two years of consecutive growth in 2020 (up 7.8%) and 2021 (up 2.5%), it shows that the market is trading well above the last pre-Covid year of 2019.
This year’s growth is driven by strong performing titles in the Adult Fiction, Children’s, Young Adult and Educational categories. Romance sales had a huge jump (77%) due in large part to Colleen Hoover titles, and the growth in the Romance category generally, heavily driven by TikTok trends. But, while TikTok has been a positive development for sales overall, contemporary romance author Sally Thorne is the only major Australian success story on the platform. The Children’s Comic Strip Fiction & Graphic Novels category received a boost from sales of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series following the Netflix adaptation in May. Overall, Adult Fiction is up 17.3% on the same time last year, Manga is up 27%, and Literary Fiction is up 12%.
The bestselling Australian title for the year to June 18 was the children’s picture book Bluey: Easter. Bluey—a cartoon dog from an Australian TV show of the same name—has been a fixture on the Australian bestseller charts for a few years now, with regular instalments to feed demand. In fact, Bluey titles fill four spots on the Australian-authored books bestseller charts for the year to date, as well as another two on the 2021 end-of-year Australian charts.
Other local bestselling titles include Love Stories, an anthology of nonfiction stories collected by popular author Trent Dalton in the follow-up to his bestselling 2019 coming-of-age debut novel Boy Swallows Universe. Popular fiction author Liane Moriarty’s Apples Never Fall is the fourth highest selling novel for the year, after it was the overall bestseller in Australia in 2021 with almost 200,000 copies sold. Also making the chart is crime novelist Dervla McTiernan and her new standalone novel The Murder Rule, which comes after the three books in the Cormac Reilly series were all bestsellers in Australia and overseas.
While Bluey dominates the bestseller charts, however, First Nations poetry is having a moment, with Evelyn Araluen’s Drop Bear (University of Queensland Press) topping the bestsellers lists at both the Sydney and Brisbane writers’ festivals in 2022.
Sydney-based Aotearoa New Zealand writer Meg Mason is another local author to have made it big overseas, with her second novel Sorrow and Bliss (Fourth Estate), picking up numerous accolades, including the British Book Award for fiction book of the year and making the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist, on its way to becoming an international bestseller. Another notable title making its way overseas is The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (Affirm), which became the first Australian title selected in Reece Witherspoon’s Reece’s Book Club in May. Since it was first published in Australia in March 2020, The Dictionary of Lost Words has sold more than 200,000 copies in Australia and New Zealand alone, while rights have been sold to dozens of territories, including the U.K., the U.S., Italy, South Korea, Brazil, and Russia.
During the peak of the pandemic, internet sales were crucial to bricks-and-mortar bookshops as recurring lockdowns sent consumers online. It remains to be seen whether customers are returning to shops in the same numbers as before Covid. Booktopia, Australia’s largest online book retailer, has had a torrid time since floating on the Australian Stock Exchange in December 2020, with the share price dropping from A$2.80 at launch to below 30 cents as of early September. Despite the latest turmoil, which has seen company founder Tony Nash ousted from the CEO role, sales at the retailer remain strong—it posted revenue growth of around 7% in the year to June 30 and the challenge now is for the company to return to profitability after a string of primarily Covid-related cost hits.
While PubTrack Digital Australia, a new e-book sales tracking service launched by Nielsen in 2021, indicated that lockdowns the previous year prompted growth in e-book sales (with sales peaking during the first Covid lockdowns in April and up by more than 26% on April 2019), anecdotally, e-book sales plateaued in 2021, while anecdotal evidence also points to audio as a growth format through the pandemic.
The industry is beginning its efforts to diversify with the Australian Publishers Association releasing the first baseline survey on diversity and inclusion in August; and both publishers and booksellers are examining next steps to reduce their environmental footprint. As elsewhere, the industry in Australia awaits the outcome of the Penguin Random House v. Department of Justice trial in the US—Australia is home to a local arm of both PRH and Simon & Schuster.
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Top 10 Australian titles in the year to June 18
- Bluey: Easter (Puffin)
- Love Stories (Trent Dalton, HarperCollins)
- The Happiest Man on Earth (Eddie Jaku, Macmillan)
- Apples Never Fall (Liane Moriarty, Macmillan)
- Bluey: More Easter Fun! (Puffin)
- The 10:10 Diet (Sarah Di Lorenzo S&S)
- Bluey: Hammerbarn (Puffin)
- Bluey: Big Backyard (Puffin)
- The Bad Guys #15: Open Wide and Say Arrrgh! (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
- The Murder Rule (Dervla McTiernan, HarperCollins)
Nielsen BookScan: week ending January 8, 2022 to week ending June 18, 2022.