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Looking back at 2023 in the UK and Ireland

The print book markets in the UK and Ireland both increased in value sales in 2023 (just over 1% and just under 1%, respectively), despite fewer books bought in either country (-5% and -2%) compared to 2022. Adult Fiction was the strongest performing sector, as it was in 2022, although purchases did drop in the UK by 2%, while spending increased 4%; in Ireland, both measures grew, with volume up 3% and value 9%. Adult Non-Fiction value sales also increased in both the UK (+1%) and Ireland (+0.1%), even as the number of books bought fell short (-5% and -2%), while Children’s, Young Adult & Educational lagged behind 2022 by 7% in volume and 2% in value in the UK and 8%/7% in Ireland.

Sales may have been down, but the children’s sector of course remains a substantial part of either market, and we can point to the bestselling authors of the year as evidence. Children’s authors take six of the top ten places in the UK and seven in Ireland for 2023, with Julia Donaldson the overall bestselling name in both and Jeff Kinney, David Walliams and Dav Pilkey also appearing in either top ten. The leading fiction and non-fiction authors also match, with Colleen Hoover holding her place at number one for the former and Nathan Anthony leading the latter in his debut year. Anthony is the only non-fiction author within the overall top ten names in either country, thanks to both Bored of Lunch books making both top ten bestseller lists.

Only two other books appear in the top 10 in both the UK and Ireland: 2022’s bestseller It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover and Spare by Prince Harry. The latter became the 2023 bestseller as of the second week of January and, in the UK, never let go; you can see here just how dominant it remained. In Ireland, the royal memoir occupied that year-to-date number one spot almost to the end but was pipped to the post in the final month of the year by Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent, before also being passed by Booker winner Prophet Song by Paul Lynch, The Bee Sting by Paul Murray and the aforementioned It Ends With Us (with the changes throughout the year shown here). Right from the top of the chart, the interest in and support for Irish authors is apparent across the bestsellers.

Back in the UK, Richard Osman’s newest hardback The Last Devil to Die overtook Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus in the final weeks of the year, with paperback The Bullet That Missed also within the top five. Osman’s latest doesn’t appear in the Irish chart until 23rd, while Lessons in Chemistry ranked 16th for the year there; another top ten book in the UK, Guinness World Records 2024, just missed out on the Irish top ten, by fewer than 500 copies. But the remaining two books in the UK bestsellers, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin and Christmas hit Murdle by G.T. Karber, are outside the top 50 and the top 100, respectively, in Ireland, showing how distinctive these two markets can be despite their close proximity.

One thing the two charts have in common is the lack of children’s books within the top ten, although for Ireland we do see two in the top 20: No Brainer by Jeff Kinney, which only surpassed runner-up Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea by Dav Pilkey as of the penultimate week of the year. The top children’s, or more accurately young adult, book appears in the UK chart at 22nd, with The Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson becoming the first YA book to lead the sector since 2014. Despite those leading titles, both Children’s Fiction and Young Adult Fiction declined in either country, with middle grade graphic novels generally performing better than more straightforward fiction, along with more activity-based children’s books.

Part of the decline in YA Fiction will be offset by the crossover audience buying more fiction books: Romance & Sagas, Science Fiction & Fantasy and Horror & Ghost Stories all reached record or near record sales in 2023, for both the UK and Ireland, with success also for Short Stories & Fiction Anthologies and Crime, Thriller & Adventure. Non-Fiction didn’t have as much widespread growth, but Biographies & Autobiographies; History & Military; Family, Health & Relationships and Humour, Trivia & Puzzles grew in both markets, with Poetry Texts & Poetry Anthologies hitting record spending levels in the UK.

So even as overall book purchases fell short, there were certainly pockets of growth, and with spending up in either country, consumers have shown that they’re willing to spend more on the books they buy. External forces are hard to ignore, going from the pandemic driving up the book market to a cost of living crisis that is likely tempering that growth, combined with competition from seemingly endless entertainment and information options at our fingertips; these stats also don’t take into account digital formats and other sources of books (library borrowing and second-hand, for example), so overall book consumption is a much wider picture. On the optimistic side, just taking the bestsellers as a snapshot, both throughout the year and for the full year, there are a lot of new faces and growing names, going beyond the usual suspects, which points to readers paying attention to what’s being released, recommended and talked about. It reflects an excitement about books, and we’ll hopefully continue to see that in 2024.

 

Based on data from the BookScan UK Total Consumer Market (TCM) and Irish Consumer Market (ICM), to 30 December 2023. 

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