Circana BookScan: A Holiday-Season Boost in US Print Sales

In News by Porter Anderson

There were 31 million units sold in Week 51 in the States, in Circana BookScan’s tracking, supporting a holiday season 1 percent over 2022.

Holiday season 2023 lighting in Rochester, Michigan, a small-town suburb 20 miles north of Detroit. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Davslens Photography

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

See also: AAP StatShot: US Industry Was Up 1.8 Percent in October

Highest Week 51 Unit Print Sales in Five Years
Having covered the latest AAP StatShot report on Tuesday (January 9) for October, today (January 10) we have a look at print performance in the United States market for the month of December from Circana BookScan, which operates its data messaging on a faster track.

There, industry analyst Kristen McLean writes, “I’m surprised by the strength of the market in December. Based on last year’s pattern, when we also had two ‘Super Saturdays’ going onto Christmas, I expected a more moderate sales volume in Week 51—more like a plateau than a mountain.

“Instead, Week 51 volumes hit 31 million units, the highest Week 51 sales of any of the last five years.

Kristen McLean

“My primary takeaway from this,” McLean says, “is that consumers are fully back to a pre-pandemic mindset when it comes to their trust in retailers’ abilities to get them what they want quickly, from a fulfillment point of view. No more worrying about supply chain or delivery capabilities.

“There was also plenty of merchandise in stores to help last-minute sales, and books are an easy buy under pressure. In addition, the US book market handily out-performed the rest of the general merchandise market we track at Circana, doing 7-percent better than combined general merchandise categories on a unit basis. This was another surprise, given that consumer confidence is pretty low amid economic and cultural uncertainty. Books’ perceived value for the price may be one reason for this.”

McLean also cautions, “Not all areas benefited equally—adult and YA fiction drove growth in December, while adult nonfiction was down about 813 thousand units, despite having some really successful books this season.”

Top-Line Performance (Week Ending December 30, 2023)

In her regularly updated charting, McLean points to a 2023 holiday season of unit print sales up 1 percent over the same period in 2022, with a 4-percent gain in valuation based on “manufacturer’s suggested retail prices” (MSRP)─the latter caused by 2023’s price increases on new books.

A 767-million-unit volume level, she says, “made 2023 the fourth strongest year on record since 2028,” up 10 percent over 2019’s volumes.

Image: Circana BookScan through the week ending December 30, 2023; US print sales only

In her notes on the Top 10 US bestsellers in print tracked by Circana BookScan, McLean points to the comparative frontlist-newness of nine of the ten. James Clear’s Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way To Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones from Penguin Random House was published in October 2018, the other nine titles were released in 2023.

It’s also interesting to note that Clear’s self-help nonfiction success is followed at No. 8 on the list by the Hachette/Little, Brown release Oath an Honor: A Memoir and a Warning by Liz Cheney, the Wyoming congresswoman whose leadership on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol cost her seat in the House of Representatives.

In a potentially pivotal year of elections in both the American market and in many other publishing markets of the world, there may indeed be a kind of echo in coming months of the international popularity of political nonfiction seen during the Trump administration.

All of the Top 10 in December are hardcover editions.

Image: Circana BookScan through the week ending December 30, 2023; US print sales only

A reminder that here at Publishing Perspectives, of course, our priority is not on the American market but on international trends and issues. We do cover the StatShot and Circana reports made available to us because of the impact that the United States’ book market─as the largest in world publishing─can have in relation to other national markets we cover.

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.