NPD BookScan: US Print Book Market Shows a ‘Strong August Performance’

In News by Porter Anderson

Near summer’s end in the Northern Hemisphere, NPD’s Kristen McLean sees the US market ‘bucking uncertainty in the wider economy.’

Lightening over the San Gabriel mountains above Los Angeles, September 6. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Jason Kutchma

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

Adult Fiction: Still Growing
With a total print volume of 486 million units—27 million fewer units than in August 2021 figure but 57 million units over August 2019—the United States’ market closed August down 5 percent year-to-date, according to today’s (September 12) NPD BookScan report.

As NPD Group industry analyst Kristen McLean sees it, the month ended “one additional million units in deficit against 2021, and six million units in additional gain against 2019, as compared to the end of July.”

As McLean points out, the American market is “bucking the possibility that, heading into the fall, uncertainty in the wider economy might push the book market down to 2019 numbers.”

And what may be of most interest here as the McLean’s note that one super-category continues to grow on the US print market, and that’s adult fiction.

Image: NPD Group/NPD BookScan through week ending September 3, 2022, US print sales only

Gaining Strength After ‘a Softer July’

McLean also points to “stronger performance at the topline” in 2022.

  • “After a softer July,” she writes in her report to the news media, the US print book market regained some strength in August, adding 2.4 million units compared to the prior 4-week period.
  • “Total market print unit sales in 2022 are now below just two previous years historically, as compared to three years in the July recap.
  • “Total market ebook sales projections have rebounded 1 percent based on PubTrack Digital data through May but remain at a negative -13 percent for the year.”

Despite some recent strong releases,” she says, “Print sales for adult nonfiction have not been as strong as fiction, and now are below seven previous years historically, which is two years more compared to last month’s comps.

“Unlike previous years when there were sustained thematic drivers for adult nonfiction—including the political cycle in 2020—as well as lifestyle categories including self-help and cooking in 2021, this year has had a less-cohesive story.

“Christian categories remain among the strongest growth areas,” she says, “but that super-category is expected to finish behind the total market in 2022 as fiction continues to dominate.”

Image: NPD Group/NPD BookScan and NPD PubTrack Digital monthly through August 2022, year-to-date ebook sales estimated

A Look at Colleen Hoover’s Sales and #Booktok

She also offers a special focus on the strong sales of the American author Colleen Hoover as a #Booktok author, a writer whose self-published success was spotted years ago by Judith Curr, then at Atria Books.

Colleen Hoover

As of August 27, McLean says, Hoover had sold 7.3 million print copies this year, which is 2.3 million units more than copies of the Bible sold this year. Hoover, McLean says, “now holds six out of the top 10 spots on the NPD BookScan print bestseller list for August.”

Several key points from McLean:

  • In 2020, all books written by Colleen Hoover sold just 237,000 units, before #Booktok became a social-media phenomenon
  • The six books Hoover has on the print bestseller list are published by three publishers—something never seen before
  • While the majority of Colleen Hoover’s books are in the romance category, most of the readers driving this growth are not traditional romance fiction readers; they’re younger, hipper, more diverse, and they’re driving a lot of peer-to-peer recommendations outside of traditional media and traditional marketing

As many Publishing Perspectives readers know, publishers are trying to figure out how to participate in #BookTok for marketing purposes as they’ve done with social-media platforms. However, they’re finding it challenging because TikTok is not as easily reverse-engineered as other platforms. There are no native analytics on the platform, so marketing requires lots of manual analysis to find the influencers and figure out what types of content and participation will drive engagement in the moment.”

McLean says, “Like many parts of the entertainment business, no matter how much the industry tries to place its best bets on what will be the big winner, at the end of the day there will be books and authors who surprise us.

“Watching the amazing success of an author like Colleen Hoover reminds us there’s always room for innovation, entrepreneurship, and great storytelling to break through. Colleen Hoover started her career self-publishing, and her business is not reliant on a single publisher. Many authors in the United States are eyeing her success and wondering if they can imitate it, as she is one of the leading authors of a creator-first business model.”

Looking Ahead to Year’s End

Image: NPD Group/NPD BookScan, year-to-date through week 35, week ending September 3, 2022, print sales only

In putting forward three possible scenarios relative to where 2022 might finish for the American market, McLean writes, “It’s now possible to see the shape of some potential outcomes as we head for the finish of the year. The market currently stands at -5 percent year-to-date.”

Kristen McLean

“Scenario 1 is the most likely: the market keeps chugging along at about -2 percent to 2020 and ends the year close to the same place.

“Scenario 2 contemplates a strong holiday that starts early, with spending close to 2021 levels, buoyed by improving consumer sentiment and optimistic growth from households that benefit from improving economic factors, including student loan forgiveness.

“Scenario 3 is a worst-case scenario, in which the bottom drops out of the market for some unforeseen reason.

“This number will improve as we get closer to the end of year,” she writes, adding, “A finish between -4 percent and -6 percent year-to-date on a unit basis is the most likely, which will still put annual volume above 2020 once the numbers shake out.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on industry statistics is here, more on the NPD Group’s work is here, more on the work of Kristen McLean is here, and more on the United States book industry is here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the coronavirus pandemic and its impact 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.