Making sense of 2022

After both the UK and Irish print book markets hit their highest value sales on record in 2021, Ireland managed to surpass that in 2022, with value sales growing another 2%, to €170m. This was largely driven by growth in fiction, which reached a lifetime high in value sales, with children’s also experiencing record spending, together balancing out the decline in non-fiction books. Fiction similarly grew in the UK, but that didn’t make up for the drop in other sectors, with the total UK print market falling 1%, to £1.8bn. Both fiction markets were led by the same author, as Colleen Hoover claimed four spots in either country’s top 20 books, including the overall bestseller spot; total sales for her books add up to 2.8m across the two. In Ireland, she was even the bestselling author for the whole market, ahead of Julia Donaldson who was the favourite once again in the UK, with Hoover in second.

Other similarities in the bestsellers include Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens making a repeat appearance in both top tens, buoyed by the film in 2022. For any other matching books, we have to extend to the top 20: Ireland’s runner-up The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo just missed the UK top ten, sitting at 11th. Richard Osman is a big presence in the UK bestsellers but only his latest The Bullet That Missed features in Ireland’s top 20, at 12th, while Ireland’s non-fiction bestseller Guinness World Records 2023 comes into the UK chart at 12th. The UK’s top non-fiction book does claim the same spot as Ireland’s does, albeit a different book, with Jamie Oliver returning to the top of non-fiction for the first time since 2017 with One. The children’s bestsellers differ across the two, and for the UK it’s actually the first time since 2006 that a children’s book doesn’t appear in the top ten. Instead, The World’s Worst Pets and SPACEBOY by David Walliams come into the UK chart at 14th and 15th, followed by Diper Överlöde by Jeff Kinney at 20th. As shown below, Kinney’s latest Wimpy Kid book ranks sixth in Ireland, with SPACEBOY at 18th.

Fiction takes eight of the top ten bestseller spots in either country, backing up the strong growth for the sector; value increased 16% in Ireland and 12% in the UK compared to 2021, resulting in both experiencing record consumer spending as measured by BookScan. The only major category to see a significant drop was Historical & Mythological Fiction, down from peak 2021 sales, while Romance & Sagas and Science Fiction & Fantasy posted their best years in Ireland and second-best in the UK, along with Graphic Novels seeing a new high in both countries, particularly driven by Manga. The two largest categories of Crime, Thriller & Adventure and General & Literary Fiction experienced decade highs in the UK, as did General Fiction in Ireland, with Crime & Thriller setting a new record there.

Children’s saw more targeted growth, with the two largest categories (Children’s Fiction and Picture Books) falling short in both countries but Graphic Novels, YA Fiction, Novelty & Activity Books and General Interest & Leisure all increasing. Overall performance was mostly level vs 2021, with the UK children’s market down 1% and the Irish market up 2%, while the adult non-fiction sector fell into decline for both countries (-8% in the UK and -5% in Ireland). There were exceptions to that, with both countries seeing successful years for Military History, History: Specific Subjects, Business and Royalty Auto/biographies, Poetry Texts & Poetry Anthologies and Anthologies, Essays, Letters & Miscellaneous.

Overall, 2022 is a tricky year to define, especially after we could just use ‘pandemic’ as an umbrella reason to cover a lot of the patterns in 2020 and 2021. The latest year was more about ‘how will the book market come out of the accelerated sales of recent years’ combined with ‘how will the market cope with the cost of living crisis’. An apparent answer to both is consumers buying more fiction books, with the surge that began in 2020 not abating throughout 2022, even in the face of the higher cost of living. Readers are no doubt looking for plenty of escapism and comfort, combined with the TikTok impact of making fiction books the thing to talk about again. Even beyond fiction, the significantly different levels of growth and decline across the many categories show a more nuanced reaction to the current economic situation than flat out cutting spending, but if there are rockier times ahead, both the UK and Irish markets are starting from a strong position thanks to the varied successes of recent years.

Based on data from the BookScan UK Total Consumer Market (TCM) and Irish Consumer Market (ICM), to 31 December 2022.