Want some numbers to go with that anxiety? Publishers Weekly has some sales analysis of 2023 book sales, based on numbers from Circana Bookscan. After several years of spectacular growth, adult graphic novel sales fell 22.4% at reporting outlets in 2023. This category includes manga, so if you cross reference with our own BookScan analysis, it’s likely that’s where the biggest declines were. We’ll have to wait until we get the 2024 numbers for more analysis.

Despite the glum news, adult GNs are still the third biggest category within adult fiction. (Category totals will be released next week.)

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, as Jim Milliot wrote. “Helped by a 1.7% increase in the fourth quarter, unit sales of print books fell only 2.6% in 2023 from 2022.”  And

Despite the 2023 sales drop of 2.6% and the more pronounced decline of 6.5% between 2021 and 2022, print unit sales in 2023 were still 10% ahead of the last prepandemic year in 2019.

While Bookscan doesn’t break out kids graphic novels as a category, comics continue to lead the category. Dog Man: Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea was the #1 book in juvenile fiction, with more than 1.1 million copies sold. No Brainer, the new Wimpy Kid, sold more than half a million.

But kids books sales are down overall, with juvenile fiction down 4.7%, after an 8.8% decline in 2022. 

While a 2.6% overall decline isn’t good news, it wasn’t as bad as publishers and booksellers had expected for 2023 sales. Strong performances by authors Colleen Hoover and Rebecca Yarros and dishy autobiographies by Prince Harry and Britney Spears kept readers turning the pages. Adult fiction was the only category that saw an increase, up 1%, although overall “the declines in most segments were far less in 2023 than in 2022.”

Hardcover books continued to do surprisingly well, while the mass market paperback format is just about dead, making up only 3.4% of all books sold – cheaper isn’t always better.

Again, we’ll have to wait to see our own Bookscan numbers, which usually come in towards the end of the month, with Brian Hibbs’ analysis coming in the spring, after many many hours of number crunching, to see where the biggest drops in 2023 graphic novel sales fell. 

In the spirit of “I will survive”, a couple of bright notes: the ALA reports that Gen Z and Millennial readers LOVE going to the library and prefer print books: 

“Great news: Younger generations of people are reading books, buying books, and visiting libraries,” said Dr. Noorda. “Not only are Gen Z and Millennials engaging with books, but they are also engaging with other forms of media. They are gamers, readers, writers, and fans who are comfortable with malleability between media categories and forms.”

Libraries are drawing even Gen Z and Millennials who don’t self-identify as readers. More than half of the 43 percent of Gen Z and Millennials who don’t self-identify as readers have been to their local library in the past 12 months.

The survival of printed books is more than just a statistical aberration on the way to a digital future, it seems. Something about holding one in your hands has a basic appeal that even Gen Z recognizes.

Also, don’t let the decline in adult GNs and juvenile fiction make you think graphic novels have had their day. According to Bookscan, the #1 selling BOOK in the country this week is Winter Turning: A Graphic Novel (Wings of Fire Graphic Novel #7) by Tui T Sutherland and artist Mike Holmes, with 96,016 copies sold. Wings of Fire is a incredibly popular middle grade fantasy series by Sutherland but the graphic novel adaptations continue to sell very well.

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  1. I’m not surprised. With Greedflation causing prices to inflate and wages staying almost flat, something’s got to give. “Luxury” items like entertainment (Movies, Books, etc..) is that thing. The silver lining is people using and caring about their local libraries more.

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