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Print Sales Down at the End of April – NPD

I am about a week late on reporting this story, but while I was catching up on news Sunday morning I noticed that a Publishers Weekly report on book sales needs a second look. I thought it was worth following up and pointing what the original story missed.

According to PW:

Solid gains in the adult fiction and juvenile nonfiction categories lifted print unit sales up 4.7% in the week ended May 2, 2020, over the comparable week in 2019, at outlets that report to NPD BookScan.

While that is technically true, if you look at the data you will see that print book sales are down across almost all categories and almost all formats (trade paperbacks sales are up 1.7%, but that is the exception in terms of format).

As you can see in the chart below, the only categories where print sales are up are kids non-fiction. As Alex Shephard pointed out on Twitter, these are the books that parents are buying to educate their kids. This is not a surge of interest in the category so much as purchases that parents are being forced to make.

Furthermore, as Alex also pointed out, at least part of the rise in sales can be attributed to the sales shifting from a channel that isn’t tracked to a channel that is. Last year many of these sales would have been made through book fairs and schools (where NPD doesn’t track), but now the sales are being made through retailers, which do report data to NPD.

So basically, print sales are down for virtually everyone, and the current surge is more akin to when the popularity of coloring books caused a surge in print sales. (That blip was gone the next year, as you may recall.)

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