2017 in review: from Nielsen BookScan

2017 in review

Jaclyn Swope is a Publisher Account Manager on the Book Research team at Nielsen BookScan, where she assists a variety of publishers with understanding and utilising both retail sales and consumer data, through training sessions, presentations and bespoke analysis of book industry trends.

Print book sales measured through BookScan in the UK reached 189.8m in 2017, earning £1.6bn; while that does mean a 2.6% decline in books sold compared to 2016, it is a 0.2% increase in money through the till. Any decline in sales can seem disheartening, even with minor value growth, but to give it some perspective: 2016 saw three titles cross a million copies for the first time since 2012, while bestsellers in 2017 fell short of that marker. AND unit sales were still above 2013 and 2014, and basically flat on 2015. So the fact that there was even marginally more value earned from fewer books, and that the sales were less concentrated in the bestsellers, points to good signs throughout the rest of the market going forward.

But I would be remiss in not talking about those bestsellers. Jamie Oliver went back to the top of the charts in 2017, ending the year as number one for the first time since 2010 with 5 Ingredients. Bad Dad took second, outselling last year’s The Midnight Gang by 23k copies. The World’s Worst Children 2 also featured amongst the bestsellers at number five; of the top twenty books for the year, five were authored by David Walliams.

Top 10 print books for the year:

1. 5 Ingredients by Jamie Oliver
2. Bad Dad by David Walliams
3. Origin by Dan Brown
4. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
5. The World’s Worst Children 2 by David Walliams
6. Guinness World Records 2018
7. Night School by Lee Child
8. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
9. The Getaway by Jeff Kinney
10. La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

Fiction was led by a hardback in 2017, as Origin reached third in the total market, with the top paperback, The Couple Next Door, close behind. Hardback fiction purchases hit their highest point since 2010, and highest earnings since 2009, this past year, with Origin joined by the latest Jack Reacher hardback The Midnight Line outselling its predecessor by around 20k.

For the first time since BookScan records began, buyers bought more Crime novels than General & Literary, although the latter still made more money. That marks the third year of growth for Crime & Thriller, with that growth stemming from both veteran and debut authors over the past few years. Science Fiction & Fantasy, Historical & Mythological, Romance, Horror and Short Stories & Fiction Anthologies all also ended on a positive note, so it was a good year for genre fiction!

In Non-Fiction, many categories are now banking multiple years of increasing sales, such as Mind, Body & Spirit and Personal Development. Popular Science hit an all-time high in 2017, led by Sapiens. Biographies & Autobiographies returned to growth for the first time in a decade, while Politics & Government posted double-digit increases across both measures, after purchases were down in 2016.

Children’s didn’t see as much success, with only a couple of areas growing in both volume and value, and a few categories seeing increased earnings but fewer sales. After Harry Potter & the Cursed Child contributed 1.5m and £16m to Children’s Fiction in 2016, strong performances by other leading authors and titles offset what could have been massive category decline; in the end Fiction fell short by only 414k and £6.2m. Children’s General Non-Fiction saw the highest growth in the Children’s sector, led by Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World and keeping up an upwards trend that we’ve seen over the past few years.

And now we’re onto 2018: in the first week, we’ve seen new titles by Tom Kerridge and Joe Wicks lead the chart, kicking off January with dieting and healthy eating as is the norm. But generally over the past few years, that interest in self-improvement has stuck around beyond healthy eating and the expiration of New Year’s resolutions. Both Popular Psychology and Self-Improvement hit all-time highs in 2017, thanks to things like mindfulness, Hygge, two books called Happy, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck – no matter what iteration self-improvement takes each year, book buyers are willing to give it a go.

They’re also staying informed: the success of books like Sapiens/Homo Deus, Prisoners of Geography, Histories of Nations and other political and economic narrative titles points to an interest in understanding how we got to this place and what it might mean going forward. (And of course political books are already getting a strong lead-in for the year with Fire and Fury.) Similarly reflecting wider cultural and socio-political movements, feminism reverberated throughout children’s, fiction and non-fiction last year, covering books like The Power, Fantastically Great Women, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and Women & Power: A Manifesto, amongst others, which will hopefully continue into 2018.

Also unicorns. People were into unicorn books in 2017. It was an interesting and varied year to say the least!

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