It’s official: Unit sales for print books in the U.S. last year were the highest ever seen in NPD BookScan, going back to the start of data tracking in 2004. Led by adult fiction, annual print volume reached 825.7 million, rising 9% over the prior year — the first time annual sales volume rose above 800 million units.
Here’s what we’re keeping a close eye on, as 2022 gets underway …
Sales will remain strong but are likely to fall below 2021
U.S. books sales in 2021 were what analysts call a “plus-plus” — a growth year stacked on top of a growth year. The market finished the year 19% ahead of 2019 on a unit basis. The factors driving that amazing performance, such as pre-vaccination stay-at-home orders, the child tax credit, and more mental space following a contentious election, will not be with us in the same way in 2022. Sales won’t fall off a cliff but prepare for negative comps.
Physical retail will remain vital
Though sales are likely to soften, consumers will continue to return to stores as the pandemic transitions to a “living-with-it” reality. And, after nearly two years of pandemic experimentation and implementation, physical book retailers are institutionalizing the best of what’s been working. From re-branding and re-merchandising efforts, to community-building strategies, live-selling, and aggressive promotional campaigns, some retailers are really going to nail it and physical bookselling will grow share overall in 2022.
NFTs and other digital innovations will pick up speed
The book market grows when new technology arrives, and generally that growth is additive. While it’s still early, NFTs and block-chain technology offer some interesting opportunities for books. From limited collectible editions to multimedia bundles, limited drop-editions from authors to fans, and enhanced e-book and audiobook programs, in which publishers continue to track ownership and receive incremental revenue, the possibilities are tantalizing. Gary Vaynerchuk’s recent marketing experiment is a case in point. NFTs should be a topic of conversation in strategic planning discussions.
Supply-chain disruptions will continue and impact the book industry in fresh ways in 2022
While there was plenty of ink spilled over supply-chain disruptions in 2021, with the exception of missing titles in series-driven categories like manga, consumers didn’t really feel the impact. Because books come with the prices printed right on them, price increases were not a factor in 2021, and if a book was out of stock, consumers by and large picked something else. In 2022, amid continued paper shortages, sky-rocketing logistics costs, and tough competition for limited printing capacity, those supply-chain disruptions will come home to roost. The effects of all of this will certainly include higher cover prices, but ongoing problems could also spark unexpected windfalls, like a higher level of digital adoption, a rise in library circulation, and an uptick in the used-book market. Additionally, the economics will create opportunities for printing capacity to return to North America, giving the market more independence and security in the long-term, as well as opportunities for sustainability and innovation in the retail and discovery spaces.