The Book Sales Boom Has Ended

Unit sales of print books fell 8.9% in the first quarter, which ended April 2, from the same period in 2021, at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. The decline was expected, as first-quarter sales in 2021 soared 29.2% over the first period in 2020. Unit sales were 183.9 million in the most recent quarter, down from 201.9 million a year ago, but they were still up about 16% over the first quarter of 2020, when sales began to soften due to pandemic-related lockdowns.

The only category to post a meaningful increase in the quarter was adult fiction. Colleen Hoover and fellow BookTok favorite Taylor Jenkins Reid were the big winners. Hoover’s It Ends with Us sold more than 400,000 copies in the first quarter, making it #1 on the category list, while truthwith 312,000 copies sold, and Reminders of Him, with about 235,000 copies sold, were in second and fifth place, respectively, on the adult fiction chart. Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was #3, selling about 268,000 copies. Run, Rose, Run by James Patterson and Dolly Parton was the top new title, selling just under 250,000 copies since its March 7 release.

The trade market’s largest category, adult nonfiction, saw sales drop 10.7% in the quarter. The decline was due to softness further down on the category list rather than at the top. Indeed, the top adult nonfiction title, James Clear’s Atomic Habits, sold more than 411,000 copies, making it the #1 title in the quarter overall. In the first quarter of last year, Atomic Habits, published in October 2018, sold more than 231,000 copies, putting it in second place on the category list behind keep sharp by Sanjay Gupta, which sold about 246,000 copies. Every subcategory in adult nonfiction had declines compared to the first quarter of 2021: the religion category had the smallest decline, 0.5%, while biography/autobiography/memoir and craft/hobbies/games/antiques both had declines of more than 19% compared to a year ago

Print unit sales in juvenile fiction fell 14.2%. The category was faced with difficult comparisons to a year ago, when sales of Dr. Seuss titles emerged after Dr. Seuss Enterprises said it would stop printing six books written between 1937 and 1976 because of concerns that the titles portrayed people in hurtful ways. In addition, last year, Dav Pilkey’s newest, Mothering Heights (Dog Man #10), was the bestselling book in the quarter, selling more than 411,000 copies. In the most recent quarter, Little Blue Truck’s Valentine by Alice Schertle was #1 in the category, selling just over 215,000 copies.

Juvenile nonfiction sales dropped 15% in the quarter. Just like in adult nonfiction, sales were down in all subcategories. Social situations/family/health had the largest decline, with units falling 22.8%, followed by games/activities/hobbies, which had a 17.6% decline. Both the juvenile categories were affected by Easter—a big season for children’s book buying—occurring on April 4 last year, 13 days earlier than this year.

The YA category was just about flat in the first quarter, with fiction sales down 1.2% and nonfiction up 0.1%.

Looking at results by format, mass market paperback had an alarming decline, with units falling almost 21%. Trade paperback had the smallest decline, down 5%.

A version of this article appeared in the 04/11/2022 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: The Boom Ends

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