US Book Market: NPD BookScan’s Viewpoint on Q1 Book Sales

In News by Porter Anderson

‘Overall, the US book market is turning in a very strong performance by historic norms,’ says NPD BookScan’s Kristen McLean.

A shot made April 9 of Manhattan from Long Island City. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Jayson Photography

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Albanese: ‘Still Up About 16 Percent Over Q1 2020’
As we’ve mentioned earlier this week, we’re in a period of post-coverage-travel effort here, working with news points we think are important for our readership, but in some cases on a bit of a delay because the tightly-scheduled proximity of Bologna Children’s Book FairLondon Book Fair, and the Caucasus and Black Sea Basin Countries’ Regional Publishing Conference in Tbilisi on the calendar. And as a point of observation, much of the year may go this way.

As more publishing events return to fully physical evocations, their timing–never a model of cooperative grace or concern for jet-lagged colleagues who must be at other events—may collide even more frequently. We continue to urge all book-fair and trade-show administrations—like awards organizers—to remember that a year has 52 weeks. Piling up dates atop each other like the cities of Troy has never helped any deserving publishing program get the attendance, recognition, or news coverage it deserves. “Spacing out,” of all things, can be a good thing, you see.

To the matter at hand, the NPD report issued Monday (April 11) shows that United States’ market turning in a less high-flying performance in the week ending April 2 than some may have been lulled into expecting.

With her usual care to try to avoid scary headlines, NPD BookScan‘s Kristen McLean writes “While US print book sales in March lagged the previous five weeks by 1.8 million units, overall the US book market is turning in a very strong performance by historic norms.

Kristen McLean

“However, 2021 was far above historic norms, so that’s creating negative comps in all areas of the business, which is why it’s very important to benchmark against historic views.

“The book market is doing okay overall, but the sales softness is likely to continue past Easter in the wider American retail landscape, as domestic and global uncertainty, supply chain issues, and price inflation on non-discretionary categories cause consumers to tighten their belts. We’ll know for sure next month.”

As artfully as McLean is saying “what goes up must come down,” there are those who have been alarmed at the news this week, apparently having expected that COVID-19 would be a kind of permanent booster of the market into a new orbit.

On ‘Velocity of Content’: ‘None of This Is Unexpected’

On today’s (April 15) “Velocity of Content” podcast from Copyright Clearance Center’s Christopher Kenneally, as a matter of fact, weekly regular Andrew Albanese of Publishers Weekly says the obvious: “We shouldn’t be so alarmed and it’s really not surprising, and it’s not as bad as the headline makes it sound. But it isn’t great news either. Right? So what is the news?

“Well, this is the NPD BookScan quarterly numbers are in and they show the unit sales of print books fell 8.9 percent in the first quarter, which ended on April 2, over the same period in 2021.

“Now 8.9 percent is a pretty big number,” Albanese points out, “and especially after the steady growth we’ve seen over the last two years. But again, none of this is unexpected.

“Remember, first-quarter sales in 2021 were crazy. They soared 29.2 percent over the first period of 2020.

“So while sales are down from a year ago, they’re still up about 16 percent over the first quarter of 2020 and the 183 million or so unit sales in the first quarter of 2022 is still well above 156 million units sold in the first quarter of 2019.”

McLean: Easter Sales May Be ‘Softer This Year Than Last’

McLean makes good points worth looking into before reacting with undue alarm (not that the US industry would ever react to something with undue alarm, of course).

“While adult nonfiction remains down for the year,” she writes, “overall sales are well within historic ranges through the end of Q1. I think this is particularly notable because this performance is happening at a time when there is no dominant reason, like a political cycle, or any market-making bestsellers to buoy the numbers in areas like cooking or lifestyle.

“On the kids’ side, we are starting to see sales in Easter categories kick in, although there are signs that the holiday will be softer this year than last. This is being echoed in other areas of retail that NPD tracks, including toys and apparel.”

We’ll offer you a group of charts just as they appear in McLean’s bulletin this week, so you can look over the signals she’s observing here.

Image: NPD BookScan / NPD Group

In bestsellers on the American market in March, McLean sees:

More on the United States market is here, more on the NPD Group’s reports is here, and more from Publishing Perspectives on industry statistics is here. More on Copyright Clearance Center is here

And more on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.