Circana BookScan: US Print Book Market ‘Slowing a Bit’

In News by Porter Anderson

The August assessment of Circana BookScan’s Kristen McLean shows romance leading a drop in United States print book sales.

The ferry ‘Badger,’ sailing from Ludington, Michigan, to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Karel Bock

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

See also: Germany’s Bookwire Stages ‘Shaping the Future of Digital Books’

McLean: ‘As If Someone Turned Down the Volume’
In her Circana Bookscan report on the month of August for the United States’ print book market, industry analyst Kristen McLean notes, “While August print book sales were up over the previous four weeks,” this summer, “they were down by 7 percent from the same period in 2022, underlining the fact that the US book market is slowing a bit” heading into the fourth quarter.

McLean says that when it comes to adult fiction, “It looks as if someone turned down the volume starting August 1.”

Her data indicates that American adult fiction print sales dropped by 1.3 million units in August, with romance contributing “the steepest declines, led by drops for some of the big authors who have been drivers in the category.”

Kristen McLean

McLean offers three more top-line observations:

  • Backlist share held steady in August, she says in her summary for the news media, with backlist books accounting for 72 percent of overall print sales—the same levels as August 2022. “The market is holding at 70 percent share of backlist year-to-date,” she writes. “This now seems like a stable benchmark with room for possible improvement in Q4.”
  • Although the fiction drop is notable, McLean says, “it’s moderate in the overall scale of the market,  and even now is being partially offset by cyclical growth in other categories.” The year-to-date performance is still down four percent, she says, and weekly losses remain incremental.
  • “Geographically, smaller markets are still outperforming big markets,” McLean writes. “The best-performing of the Top 10 designated marketing areas (Dallas) is still only ranked at No. 20 by 52-week performance.”

Image: Circana BookScan, the first week of September 2023; US print only

In bestsellers tracked by Circana’s BookScan system, Rebecca Yarros’ May 2 release from Entangled, Fourth Wing (The Empyrean, 1) was at No. 1 in August for a second month. 

McLean points out that eight of the Top 10 titles were adult fiction, reflecting a typical trend for the month of August.

Image: Circana BookScan, the four weeks ending August 26, 2023; US print only

A programming note: Circana BookScan’s Kristen McLean is one of the speakers scheduled to discuss multi-format publishing on Wednesday (September 13), in Bookwire’s “Shaping the Future of Digital Books” program. More information is in our preview article here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on industry statistics is here, and more on Circana research here. More on the work of Kristen McLean is here, and more on the United States book industry 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.