Book Industry Articles: Non-Fiction Continue to Eclipse Fiction
October 17, 2018
The publishing industry is kind of like the movie business. There are always new things coming out – some good, some not so good, and some blockbusters that have a huge impact on the industry for a period of time. For example, the Harry Potter and Twilight series both made a splash on page and screen and dominated the industry for years. However, trends are shifting and non-fiction book sales are on the rise. In fact, non-fiction sales have eclipsed fiction since 2013, and the gap has continued to grow.
Forbes recently released an article looking at this trend of non-fiction sales outperforming fiction. The article goes on to present specific revenue figures to put each category comparison into content. Take a read:
Traditional Publishers Are Selling Way More Non-Fiction Than Fiction
Author: Adam Rowe
In the publishing industry, adult non-fiction revenues are soaring above fiction revenues and have been widening the gap for the past five years. Adult non-fiction revenue totalled $6.18 billion across the publishing industry in 2017, while adult fiction revenues reached $4.3 billion, according to Penguin Random House, using data from Association of American Publishers (AAP), the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Bookscan.
2013 was the last year that the adult fiction category beat non-fiction in revenue (at $5.21 billion in revenue to non-fiction’s $4.82 billion). Revenues for adult non-fiction have rapidly risen every year since: $4.97 billion in 2014, $5.59 billion in 2015, $5.87 billion in 2016, and finally $6.18 billion last year. In the same five-year period, adult fiction revenues dropped from a high of $5.21 billion in 2013 to 2017’s low of $4.38 billion.
Revenues in the Children’s and Young Adult fiction and non-fiction category, meanwhile, have remained below both adult categories for the five-year period, except for 2016, when it reached $4.47 billion, besting the adult fiction revenues of $4.43 billion.
One caveat should accompany these numbers before we start reporting the death of adult fiction, however: The numbers only account for traditionally published books, and any fiction or non-fiction from the not-insignificant indie self-publishing community is not included. As publishing expert Jane Friedman noted in a Twitter comment about the findings, “The market for fiction may not be shrinking overall, but it may be shrinking for traditional publishers if indie authors’ cheaper titles look more attractive to avid fiction readers.”
The data was presented in an August report from Penguin Random House, though their main focus was on the stability of the book publishing industry. Revenue is largely flat: Overall revenues clocked in at $14.7 billion for 2017, up 0.4% from 2016. “Notable trends during this time period include a rebound in trade (consumer) books and continued double-digit growth for audio,” the report notes. “While ebook sales declined (-4.7%) for the third consecutive year, the pace of decline appears to be slowing down.”
Don’t expect the publishing industry’s impressive non-fiction revenues to change when the data from this year arrives: Given the consistent successes that political tell-alls have enjoyed this year, the adult non-fiction category is continuing strong.
It will be no surprise to hear that political tell-alls have been dominant in the non-fiction category as of recent years. Since the 2016 election, there has been more interest than ever in political non-fiction titles, as consumers want an inside look of the current running of the US government. Variety recently produced an article discussing President Trump’s effect on the publishing industry:
Trump Powers Boom Time for Book Publishers
Author: Brent Lang
President Donald Trump may not be much of a reader, but he’s been a gift to book publishers.
Sales of political books are up 25% year to date, according to NPD Group, powered by such headline-grabbing best-sellers as James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty,” Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” and Omarosa Manigault Newman’s “Unhinged.” These novels paint a portrait of a White House in turmoil, but some are pro-Trump tomes, such as “Liars, Leakers, and Liberals,” a fiery defense of the 45th president from Fox News’ Judge Jeanine Pirro.
“There’s a lot going on in the cultural zeitgeist, and that’s translating into increased book sales,” said Kristen McLean, executive director of business development at NPD. “People want to understand what’s going on right now.”
The literary boom is somewhat ironic. Although Trump is a best-selling author of (ghostwritten) books such as “The Art of the Deal,” he’s said he doesn’t care much for reading. He is said to like short memos with lots of bullets. Whereas George W. Bush and Barack Obama used to publish summer reading lists, Trump seems to spend most of his R&R time on the golf course at one of his clubs or watching Fox News.
Non-fiction sales, particularly of political and self-help books, have helped lift a publishing industry at a time when the popularity of fiction is in decline. Sales volume of print books rose 2% in the first half of 2018, with adult non-fiction print book sales jumping 4% to 136 million units, while fiction print sales declined 4% to 63 million units. “Fire and Fury,” Wolff’s scathing look at the president, and “A Higher Loyalty,” a memoir of former FBI chief Comey, sold the first and third most copies of any book during that period, respectively.
At the moment, one book is flying off shelves. That’s Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which had the highest first-week sales of any book in Simon & Schuster’s nearly 100-year history, moving 1.1 million copies. The legendary investigative journalist has inspired Twitter rants from Trump after reporting that White House aides have worked to undermine the president in order to prevent him from imperiling national security. Lexi Beach, the owner of Astoria Bookshop in Queens, said “Fear” sold out immediately, and half of the replacement shipment she ordered is already reserved for customers eager to dig into Woodward’s depiction of an unhinged commander-in-chief.
But “Fear” isn’t an anomaly. Beach said when she first opened Astoria Bookshop five years ago, there wasn’t much demand for books about Beltway drama. That changed with the 2016 election.
“That shifted things,” Beach said. “Particularly after Trump won, we had a lot more demand for books about activism and political engagement.”
Christine Onorati, the owner of Word, a bookstore with branches in Greenpoint and Jersey City, said political titles have always sold well at her shop. She has noticed a spike in interest surrounding historical titles, particularly books about the World War II era and Richard Nixon, another scandal-plagued president.
“People really want to understand how we got here,” Onorati said. “They’re putting a new set of eyes on history. The past has become a little more relevant.”
Of course, not even trade wars, border walls, and Russian collusion can trump the popularity of some cultural phenomenons.
“Nothing’s outselling ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’” Beach said. “That’s the book I can’t keep in stock.”
Comment below and let us know your thoughts on these trends!