Circana BookScan: US Print Books Gained Momentum in October

In News by Porter Anderson

Citing ‘positive momentum contrary to what we expected to see in October,’ Circana’s Kristen McLean has a monthly overview of US sales.

At the ‘Haunted Happenings’ event on Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts, October 31. Image – Getty iStockphoto: FlySnow

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

‘Adult Nonfiction Drove the Gains’
In her Circana BookScan report on the month of October for the United States’ print book market, industry analyst Kristen McLean writes, “The print book market gained momentum in October. Unit sales were up 1 percent compared to October 2022 and MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) sales grew 6 percent, telling us higher priced items are selling faster this year compared to last.

“Year-to-date performance improved by one-half point through October compared to September. Adult nonfiction drove the gains.”

And in some of her most interesting comments, McLean writes, “This positive momentum is contrary to what we expected to see in October, given the resumption of student loan repayments and a decline in consumer confidence. It’s also contrary to what we’re watching at total retail, where Q4 season-to-date dollars and units were down 7 percent compared to the same period last year. Does this positive momentum signal a strong finish to the year for the book market? We hope so.”

Kristen McLean

This reflection of the US book market’s movements in October by comparison to the broader base of consumer and retail data gathered by Circana is not always where McLean’s observations lead her, and it helps explain to any readers who may be new to us here at Publishing Perspectives on our rationale for monthly market-trend input from Circana and the Association of American Publishers’ StatShot reports.

The US market, in the internationalist purview of Publishing Perspectives, is one of more than 100 markets our coverage may touch on in a given year. But because of its size and the comparative impact of its trends, we find that these monthly economic temperature checks can be useful, as they can provide implications to movement that might be reflected in other world publishing markets.

In that context, McLean’s observation that books in the October US market were bucking a less felicitous trend line in other retail sectors is highly interesting.

McLean also offers several key points for October’s industry performance (which is linked to Week 43 in the calendar year).

Backlist share, she notes, “continues to hold steady at 70 percent for the year, the same share measured in 2022.”

Kids’ Halloween book sales “outperformed the rest of the kids’ market in October. Sales were 8-percent higher in
October 2023 compared to October 2022, and year-to-date, the subject is up 6 percent.” McLean points out that what’s next to be discerned is whether that Halloween activity will carry over to kids’ holiday books.

And she reports that Britney Spears’ The Woman in Me from Simon & Schuster “is the bestselling book of the month, with 418,000 Week One print sales.

“Given the subject matter,” she writes, “it’s likely the audiobook will meet or exceed print format sales. However, in comparing print performance, Spears falls short of Prince Harry’s Spare (Penguin Random House) Week One sales of 621,000, released earlier this year.

“Barack Obama (also Penguin Random House) holds the top spot for the fastest-selling print biography in BookScan history with 832K week one sales.”

Top-Line Market Performance (Week Ending October 28)

In the chart below, McLean points out that the top-line market performance “improved nearly half a point from September,” when Circana’s BookScan measured a -4-percent performance, to October, which showed a -3.6 percent.”

She credits part of this to the fact that, “We’re beginning to see the impact of prominent fall releases, especially in adult nonfiction, which has gained two points in performance since last week.”

Image: Circana BookScan through the week ending October 28, 2023; US print sales only

In the Circana BookScan Top 10 bestsellers list for October, McLean is pointing out that frontlist titles were dominant, “a trend consistent with seasonal patterns.” The list includes, you’ll notice, Enough from Simon & Schuster, by Cassidy Hutchinson, the former special assistant to Donald Trump and his chief of staff Mark Meadows, whose testimony before the January 6th insurrection committee was influential. There’s part of this trend McLean is highlighting in adult nonfiction.

Image: Circana BookScan, four weeks ending October 28, 2023; US print sales only

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.