But what mainstream publishers will have preferred not to hear was that romance sales were way down, with the recent big names being hardest hit.
First, apologies to those who expect the TNPS op-eds more frequently. The West African internet gods have not been kind recently. Hopefully I’ve appeased them enough to let me back on track, starting with this look at the August figures from Circana.
The August Circana Bookscan report on the US print market is, like pretty much every print report we are seeing this year, in direct contradiction of former PRH CEO Markus Dohle’s May 2023 assertion that “The physical format has prevailed over the last 50 years. It’s getting a lot larger, and that doesn’t show any signs of weakness. It’s quite the opposite.”
The reality of course is that signs of weakness are everywhere as the twin factors of the post-Covid publishing market correction and the economic and supply chain crises make themselves felt in the western markets.
Circana’s Kristen McLean said this past week that August print book sales were down 7% on the same period in 2022, “underlining the fact that the US book market is slowing a bit,” with adult fiction print sales dropped by 1.3 million units.
The Circana Bookscan report is of course print-specific, so no digital sales to compare, but worth bearing in mind that in July Amazon paid out $49.5 million in royalties to ebook self-publishers in its Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service, and that the August figure, which will be announced in the next week or so, is likely to hit $50 million.
The July 2023 figure was up 10% on 2022, and the August figure should be up about the same.
Two other key points arose from the Circana Bookscan report, one good for the industry, one that will have traditional publishers quietly panicking.
McLean reported that backlist share for Augusts ’22 and ’23 were pretty much identical, with 70% of the market, which will go some way to explaining why Kindle Unlimited is doing so well – subscription is the backlist’s best friend.
But what mainstream publishers will have preferred not to hear was that romance sales are way down, with the recent big names being hardest hit.
Referencing the 1.3 million unit plummet for print in August, Mclean said romance saw “the steepest declines, led by drops for some of the big authors who have been drivers in the category.”
That will no doubt include the many BookTok-buoyed authors and publishers, many of whom may have been lulled into false sense of security by the BookTok boom.
With September at the half-way mark and Christmas looming, it’s reasonable to expect some lift in the print market as we move into the seasonal bonanza, but with the BookTok boom fading and prices rising, it’s unlikely we’ll see any records broken this coming “Holidays” session.
Meantime digital audio, and ebooks from those publishers showing some respect to consumers and pricing sensibly, are well-positioned to ride out the economic woes and emerge stronger in 2024.