In what amounts to faint praise for the strength of the physical book NPD reported that print book sales rose 1.9 percent in 2017, less than the 3 percent growth posted in 2013-2016. NPD tracks book sales in the US.
“Returning from the huge sales of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ in 2016, and the rise of adult coloring books, last year’s book sales growth was more modest than the industry has seen in recent years,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for The NPD Group. “Big blockbusters are both a blessing and a curse for the book publishing industry. In the years where they hit, they drive tremendous success for publishers; but afterwards the inevitable drop in sales back towards normal feels like a loss. It is a feast or famine phenomenon, if no blockbusters emerge to take their place the following year.”
What does this mean for readers? First it shows us that physical book sales stall in the absence of any single blockbuster – usually a kid’s title – to buoy the market. Further, children’s books are the last refuge of the print publisher.
“Children’s books continued to thrive with a 3 percent boost in 2017, led by R.J. Palacio’s ‘Wonder’ and Jeff Kinney’s ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid #12: The Getaway.’” the NPD wrote. “There were lifts in early childhood books, with 11 percent year-over-year growth in board books and 20 percent growth in graphic novels, tied to the success of Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man series.”
NPD doesn’t supply any numbers nor did it compare print sales to digital but this sort of flat to slow growth doesn’t bode well for fans of the printed word.