Interesting 2017 statistics from the booktrade journal Publishers Weekly (19th Jan 2018), giving a snapshot of the print book market for 2017. They’re summarising the industry-leading NPD BookScan data, which tracks 85% of print bookstore retail in the USA. So comparative digital/online trends are missing, but I did note a couple of interesting things:
1. After surging wildly ahead for two years, print sales of graphic novels in bookshops slipped back a little…
“[they had] an 11% increase between 2015 and 2016 — the second biggest gain in adult fiction in that year — [but] saw sales fall 5% last year.”
I’d guess the dip was somewhat due to much-cheaper 10″ digital tablets, such as the new Kindle Fire HD 10″, which is ideal for reading graphic novels. Also, Marvel are having a hard time on sales at the moment, due to their editorial policies in the monthly comic-books.
2. Interest in the fad of adult coloring books has (predictably) collapsed, though it had a good run. Sales of History/Law/Politics and Reference books are now surging, presumably on both sides of the political divide. Book sci-fi for adults seems to have slightly declined, possibly partly due to the depressing / pessimistic nature of most of the ‘serious sci-fi’ novels being released. Fantasy for adults seems to be running at about the same level too, with its apparent strong surge in 2017 nearly all down to Neil Gaiman selling 265,000 print copies of his Norse Mythology. But such broad stability is encouraging for print, in the face of piracy and a continuing slip over to digital and audiobooks rather than print. Much of the ‘serious sci-fi / fantasy’ audience is getting older, and so audiobooks and tablets with scalable ebook fonts will appeal more and more, thus one would expect that trend to cut into print sales.
3. Various cultural trends are evident on looking down the book sales tables. It seems to me that if you want to reach a sweet spot in the 2018 mass market, then you would release the following ‘ideal’ product — which would aim to hit multiple mass-market growth areas at once:
Juvenile: Historical Animals, with their story set in a specific and distinctive Place. (On the flipside of such furry historical fiction, trends in music suggest that ‘boy bands’ and nerd culture may be two hot ‘real world settings’ for 2018).
Adult: Detective Horror set in a very well-researched and detailed historical setting, with a dash of the Fantastical. Light on the Romance.
Non-fiction: The huge success of Gaiman’s Norse Mythology may have opened up a follow-on market for the myths and stories and spirituality of the North?
I also note that steampunk comes through in Hollywood movies set to be released at the end of 2018, and the genre will get a strong marketing/awareness boost due to that. There’s also a major Tolkien biopic movie, though if that will be any good or not remains to be seen. But the middle of the year should see some sustained establishment-media attention for Tolkien. Rocketing sales at Games Workshop also suggests sustained interest in Tolkien-like fantasy at the other end of the age spectrum, as the ‘new baby boom’ kids establish their first out-of-home no-parents interests.
Of course, that’s all “mass market”, which can be heavily skewed by where the marketing money and talent goes. There are plenty of strong genre niches too, made ever more accessible by crowdfunding and new indie distribution platforms.