Canadian publishing in 2016: A review

Welcome to 2017. It's that time when we can rejoice in making it through another year and look forward to starting a new year with a new outlook. It's also the time when we love to reflect on the year we just left behind us—best of lists, 'year in review's, and wrap-up posts are great reading. This is our contribution: a quick overview of how books sales in 2016 compared with book sales in 2015.

The following percent changes are based on data reported to our sales tracking service, BNC  SalesData, from a specific subset of retailers selected because they report consistently year over year and which excludes retailers that may have been added or removed from the panel in the last year. This ensures an accurate assessment of market change over time.

Units sold

Unit sales were down a small amount overall in 2016 compared with 2015 with a decrease of 6.4% for all subjects. In the Fiction and Non-Fiction categories, unit sales were also down slightly. However, for Juvenile books (including Young Adult titles), the unit sales were virtually flat between 2015 and 2016.

Units sold.png

Non-Fiction saw the largest drop in unit sales: a 10.4% decrease year over year. Units of Fiction books were not down as much, only 6.7%. Juvenile books had an insignificant decrease of 0.7% in unit sales from 2015 to 2016.

Value Sold

The value of sales decreased only slightly from 2015 to 2016, down by 3.6%. Again, the value sold in 2016 was down from 2015 in the Fiction and Non-Fiction categories. However, the value of Juvenile books sold (including Young Adult categories) was up in 2016 compared with 2015 numbers.

The largest drop in value was in the Non-Fiction category where the value of sales dropped by 7.1%. The value sold in the Fiction category decreased by 5.6%. The good news is in the Juvenile category, where the value sold was up by 6.7%.

Formats Purchased

According to the results of consumer surveying that BookNet Canada undertakes, we see some fluctuations quarter to quarter in the graph below in terms of consumer format preferences. 

Audiobook and hardcover purchases have remained fairly flat. In 2016, audiobook purchases made up, on average, 2.6% of total book purchases while in 2015 it was 2.2%. Hardcover book purchases accounted for 24.2% in 2015 and went down only slightly to 23.9% in 2016. 

Paperbacks and ebooks had marginally more movement. On average in 2015, ebooks made up 19.0% of total book purchases and in 2016 the average share of ebooks fell to 16.9%. On the flip-side, paperback purchases were up from an average of 51.1% of purchases in 2015 to an average of 54.2% in 2016.


We also received data about where book buyers are buying their books. The distribution over the channel categories remained much the same from 2015 to 2016. Online channels (including online, mobile app, and ebook/audio) increased from 46.2% in 2015 to 48.0% in 2016. Physical channels (including chains, bookstores, general, discount, book clubs, and grocery) decreased from 53.7% in 2015 to 52.0% in 2016.

As always, our research publication, The Canadian Book Market will be out later this year, with more details and in-depth information about the state of Canadian publishing in 2016. Keep an eye out for it!