February 12, 2019

Slow and steady wins the race


It’s February. I know. We’re barely a quarter of the way into 2019 and it already feels like we’ve lived through three years. Things feel slow. Book sales reflect the existential lethargy, with NPD BookScan reporting sales to be down 5.9 percent when compared with 2018’s reported sales.

Why? It comes down to those heavy-hitters, the industry sellers that essentially buoy the business due to their rapidfire, meteoric sales numbers. Last year there was Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff, selling nearly 800,000 copies, which helped raise collective sales for adult nonfiction 4.9 percent from the previous year (2017). Fire and Fury fanned the flame for a slew of titles focused on the Trump presidency. So far this year, the top seller is none other than Michelle Obama’s Becoming (selling 310,000 copies).

On the fiction front, NPD BookScan sales numbers are down 8.7 percent. A bit alarming? Last January’s big title was No Middle Name by Lee Child (81,000 copies), 2019’s January standout being Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (79,000 copies). Jim Milliot, reporting for Publishers Weekly, suggests that the decline in fiction could be due to an industry-wide printing shortage. Veteran printer Edwards Brothers Malloy (EDM) closed and left the industry reeling and with paper cost increases and shortages, everyone is still catching up.

The silver lining? 2019 is brimming with hotly anticipated books in fiction, and there are an innumerable amount of books about Trump to come. It’s too early to be concerned, but if January 2019 sales data reminds us of anything, it’s how the industry relies tremendously on a delicate hierarchy of big sellers.



Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.