The international book trade steadies in the face of difficult economic times.
As we pass the mid-point of 2023 it’s a time to reflect on how the year has performed to date and to consider the longer-term trends. With the past few years of extreme turbulence for everyone, it is heartening to see growth in book sales in many countries, although many continue to experience uncertainty and challenge.
Not a single commentary on the book trade is complete without some mention of TikTok—or more specifically BookTok—and the impact this social media platform has had on book buying across the world. Colleen Hoover, author of It Ends with Us, It Starts with Us, and Verity among other titles, can be hailed as the queen of video-inspired sales, achieving top 10 positions in the U.K., Ireland, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Of course, there continue to be more traditionally promoted “brand” fiction authors that remain popular among audiences worldwide such as Lee Child, Lucinda Riley, and David Baldacci, who have also had chart success in multiple territories, but the growth in fiction sales seen in six of the countries now monitored by NielsenIQ is primarily driven by romance and sagas titles appearing with BookTok hashtags.
The nonfiction bestseller lists are dominated by Prince Harry’s autobiography Spare released at the start of the year, with this title appearing in all but three of the international top 10 bestsellers for 2023. With the dust now settling on this year’s “mega”-bestseller (we are already concerned about year-on-year comparisons for these markets come January 2024…!), let’s look at what else has been popular this year.
Self-help, whether in more instructional form such as Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck or Atomic Habits from James Clear through to more mindful guidance from Gaur Gopa Das in India with Energize your Mind: Learn the Art of Mastering your Thoughts, sees consumers continuing to seek life lessons from books. Although volume declines for this category have been experienced in several territories, India, Ireland, Spain, and Mexico have shown volume growth year on year, indicating that there is still life in the nonfiction universe.
Finally, children’s book sales have also been struggling, although we do see volume growth in this category in India, Italy, and Mexico, with authors such as Sudha Murty, Dav Pilkey, and Joana Marcús leading the way in the bestseller lists.
The overall trend we are seeing is decreasing volume sales but an increase in market values. The exceptions are South Africa, which has struggled with retail closures as well as a difficult economic situation; Mexico, which is seeing more sales through department stores and supermarkets; Ireland, whose nation of book buyers continue to support Irish titles; and India, where consumers are embracing a return to bricks-and-mortar stores after the closures of the Covid years.
Of course, the cost-of-living crisis is impacting consumers worldwide and books have not been exempt from inflationary pressures, with the average cover price of a book in many countries increasing, particularly in the last couple of years. This has led to increased prices being paid for books; in the U.K. the average price paid for a print book in 2023 is €0.39 more than in 2018, while there have been double-digit increases in prices paid in Ireland, Brazil, and India. The steepest price hike, however, has been seen in South Africa, where consumers now pay €2.65 more for a book than they did in 2018.
As the year continues NielsenIQ’s recent combination with GfK brings together two powerhouses within book sales measurement that will result in a more complete measure of book sales across Europe. In addition to the existing 12 BookScan territories, Nielsen IQ can now bring you GfK’s market data from Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal, the Netherlands, and France. The joining together of two expert teams will result in even more advanced analytics and data integration to answer all your key business questions.
* to June 17, 2023