NPD BookScan Sees 2023 US Book Market ‘Off to a Solid Start’

In News by Porter Anderson

US backlist sales continued to grow in share in January, Kristen McLean reports, adult fiction helping to offset sagging adult nonfiction.

On Elliott Bay at Puget Sound, Washington State, January 23. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Randall Williams

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

‘Juvenile Categories Are Soft’
In her first month’s coverage period of the United States’ print book market in 2023, NPD Books executive director and industry analyst Kristen McLean writes, “While four weeks is not enough to project trends for the year, January was off to a solid start, down just 199,000 from January 2022, on a monthly volume of 58 million units.

“This puts the January 2023 start at No. 8 for volume in the 20-year NPD BookScan historical view. We’ll know more about the consumer outlook after we see what happens with Valentine’s Day.”

Publishing Perspectives readers will recall that McLean signed off on her 2022 reportage noting that she (and many) had “big questions about consumers’ appetites” going into this year. “This holiday season was another reminder,” she wrote, “that we remain in uncharted territory in the United States’ consumer market, and that it’s important to take each week as it comes.”

Today (February 7), we have some new data points to consider, and McLean lays them out this way:

  • “While overall units were nearly flat [in] 2022, growth and decline trends are holding over from 2022.
  • “Six of the Top 10 books for the month [of January] were also top bestsellers in 2022.
  • “Adult and YA fiction are growing, adult nonfiction is down, and juvenile categories are soft.
  • “Backlist sales continue to grow in share. Backlist sales were up 0.5 percent in January.
  • “Frontlist sales fell 2 percent, making January backlist sales one point higher than they were a year ago.
  • “Not surprisingly, growing categories in January versus December highlight topics consumers are focusing on after the holiday: high-profile memoirs, religion, wellness, new-semester study materials, and politics.”
Pandemic-Era Migration in the United States

“Our hypothesis about the impact of pandemic migration on the US consumer market,” McLean writes, “has been confirmed by new data from the national census. Florida, Texas, and North Carolina have seen the biggest population gains, while California, New York, and Illinois have seen the largest losses.

Kristen McLean

“Mid-sized markets are doing the best overall in terms of performance.”

Going forward, as we say—as if going backward were an option—McLean points out that a key indicator may be found in whether 2023 keeps up with 2022, both in terms of February sales in categories like adult nonfiction and the holiday-season performance of children’s books.

As a technical point, McLean adds that she’s holding onto 2019 as the most useful benchmark for testing consumer activity that was seen to increase during the most intensive periods of the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Image: NPD Group/NPD BookScan and NPD PubTrack Digital, trended YoY January unit sales. YTD 2023 ebook sales are estimated

You’ll note that in her chart above, McLean credits the unavoidable memoir from the duke of Sussex, Spare (Penguin Random House, January 10), for many of the strong sales that continued to January’s sturdy start to the year.

As it turns out, even the mighty Colleen Hoover had to give over to disgruntled royalty the No. 1 print-book bestselling spot in the American January, satisfying herself with only four spots: Nos. 2, 3, 5, and 6.

Image: NPD Group/NPD BookScan, four weeks ending January 28, 2023, US print sales only

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, which factors into McLean’s notes about a benchmark for consumer activity, 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.