US Book Market: NPD BookScan’s Viewpoint on Q1 Book Sales

This content has been archived. It may no longer be accurate or relevant.

Publishing Perspectives:

The NPD report issued Monday (April 11) shows that United States’ market turning in a less high-flying performance in the week ending April 2 than some may have been lulled into expecting.

With her usual care to try to avoid scary headlines, NPD BookScan‘s Kristen McLean writes “While US print book sales in March lagged the previous five weeks by 1.8 million units, overall the US book market is turning in a very strong performance by historic norms.

“However, 2021 was far above historic norms, so that’s creating negative comps in all areas of the business, which is why it’s very important to benchmark against historic views.

“The book market is doing okay overall, but the sales softness is likely to continue past Easter in the wider American retail landscape, as domestic and global uncertainty, supply chain issues, and price inflation on non-discretionary categories cause consumers to tighten their belts. We’ll know for sure next month.”

As artfully as McLean is saying “what goes up must come down,” there are those who have been alarmed at the news this week, apparently having expected that COVID-19 would be a kind of permanent booster of the market into a new orbit.

. . . .

On today’s (April 15) “Velocity of Content” podcast from Copyright Clearance Center’s Christopher Kenneally, as a matter of fact, weekly regular Andrew Albanese of Publishers Weekly says the obvious: “We shouldn’t be so alarmed and it’s really not surprising, and it’s not as bad as the headline makes it sound. But it isn’t great news either. Right? So what is the news?

“Well, this is the NPD BookScan quarterly numbers are in and they show the unit sales of print books fell 8.9 percent in the first quarter, which ended on April 2, over the same period in 2021.

“Now 8.9 percent is a pretty big number,” Albanese points out, “and especially after the steady growth we’ve seen over the last two years. But again, none of this is unexpected.

“Remember, first-quarter sales in 2021 were crazy. They soared 29.2 percent over the first period of 2020.

“So while sales are down from a year ago, they’re still up about 16 percent over the first quarter of 2020 and the 183 million or so unit sales in the first quarter of 2022 is still well above 156 million units sold in the first quarter of 2019.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Perhaps PG is missing some nuances, but it seems to him that the headline might be something like, “COVID Caused the Book Markets and a Bunch of Other Markets to do Strange Things and Experts Don’t Know Why”


“Comparing Sales Without COVID to Sales With COVID is not Terribly Helpful Because COVID was a Black Swan of the First Order That Will Never Happen Again. Even If It Does Happen Again, It Won’t be the Same as It Was the First Time”


“Nothing is Going to Save the Traditional Book Business”

3 thoughts on “US Book Market: NPD BookScan’s Viewpoint on Q1 Book Sales”

  1. I like your last headline best: “Nothing is Going to Save the Traditional Book Business.”

    It makes us indies look prescient, when we were merely getting around the ‘system’ which rejects upward of 95% of everything submitted to it.

    Kris Rusch has been saying it for years, as have many others.

    It’s just a matter of how long it will take it to fall. A couple of bad quarters are potential signals to the non-book-loving corporations that have somehow been persuaded to continue to pay for Manhattan real estate.

    • Part of tbe reminders of the pandemic is that the longer tbe supply chain, in distance as well as links, the more fragile it becomes. There’s a reason vertically organized companies and consortia tend to be so durable: the control their own fate.

      Indies cut out a lot of the links in the book chain and most of them (B&M booksellers in particular) have very little value add to bring to the table. Even the ones who contract out functions have a lot more control over their fate than the typical (non-Patterson) tradpubber.

      Control is by itself very valuable.

      The lesson is being reinforced on a macro scale even as we speak.

  2. “If you think it looks bad now, wait ’til you see what comes next.”

    And that’s just in their little closed up circle.
    If they bothered to look at the trends in the world beyond manhattan and the spreading ripples from the triple crisis they’d faint. There’s worse things than tbe pandemic afoot.

    The only thing to be determined is just how bad things will get.

Comments are closed.