January 10, 2017

Print book sales up for the third year running


blue-growth-chartAt last, some good news. Over at Publishers Weekly, Jonathan Segura has reported that print book sales, for the third year in a row now, were up in 2016 — rising 3.3% from 2015. This comes as some surprise because of the reported decline of both adult coloring books and American democracy.

Nonfiction books in particular had a strong showing in 2016, with an increase in sales of 6.9% from last year. And:

Several subcategories posted substantial increases, among them crafts and hobbies, where the adult coloring book boom—though slowing down from 2015’s blitz—continues to have a large impact. The religion and self-help areas also saw boosts, though for different reasons. Several big-name religion authors published new titles last year and racked up six-figure sales (Pope Francis, Lysa Terkeurst, Sarah Young), whereas backlist powered the self-help category: of the top five self-help titles, only one, Angela Duckworth’s Grit, was published in 2016.

Fiction, on the other hand, was down overall from 2015 by one percentage point. This is likely due, Segura speculates, to the fact that the year offered no new absolute-blockbuster buy-your-mom-a-dozen-copies hardcover, à la The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, which, after its release in January 2015, had sold one million copies (in hardcover) by March 2015, and three million copies by August 2015.

Which isn’t to say that The Girl on the Train disappeared in 2016 — quite the opposite. It only changed formats. The paperback edition of The Girl on the Train was released in July 2016 and sold 955,000 copies in 2016, making it the #1 selling adult fiction title of the year. Hawkins’s novel was followed by 2015’s A Man Called Ove by Frederik Bachman, also a paperback.

Segura adds, “Nearly all fiction subcategories closed out the year lower than in 2015. The lone bright spot in fiction was comics and graphic novels, which had a 12% increase on the year.”

With regard to format, all were up except for mass markets, which have been trending downward since the advent of the digital reader. According to Nielsen Bookscan, 59,357 mass markets sold in 2016, a 7.1% decrease from 2015 (64,318).



Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.