2023 in books: Protests, bannings and the rise of AI helped shape the story of publishing

by Joshua Brown
Publishing Trends 2023

In the realm of book publishing in 2023, we witnessed a complex tapestry of developments that shaped the industry’s narrative. Amidst a backdrop of declining sales and mounting conflicts, several noteworthy trends and events came to the forefront, leaving a lasting impact on the world of literature.

Print Sales and Fiction’s Resilience: Following the surge in print book sales during the pandemic, 2023 saw a gradual cooling in overall sales. However, the genre of fiction remained robust, thanks in part to the influence of young readers on BookTok. Colleen Hoover, an author embraced by the BookTok community, maintained her status as the country’s top-selling author, even without releasing a new work in the year. Notably, three of her novels secured positions among the top 10 sellers, according to Circana’s tracking. Additionally, the emergence of a newly coined genre called “romantasy,” combining elements of romance and fantasy, was spearheaded by authors Sarah J. Maas and Rebecca Yarros.

Literary Highlights: The literary landscape was graced with notable works, including Justin Torres’ groundbreaking narrative, “Blackouts,” which delved into the hidden history of gay sexuality and clinched the National Book Award for fiction. Critics also hailed James McBride’s multiethnic crime tale, “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store,” R.F. Kuang’s satirical offering, “Yellowface,” Paul Murray’s family drama, “The Bee Sting,” and a slew of nonfiction releases such as Jonathan Eig’s biography of Martin Luther King, titled “King,” Naomi Klein’s exploration of the Internet in “Doppelganger,” and Ned Blackhawk’s award-winning “The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History.”

Book News and Beyond: However, the news in the world of books was not solely shaped by literary achievements. Courtrooms, boardrooms, and even palace gossip played significant roles. The year commenced and concluded with the release of tell-all memoirs by celebrities estranged from their families – Prince Harry’s “Spare” and Britney Spears’ “The Woman in Me.” These memoirs delved into tales of confinement and repression, shedding light on deeply personal struggles.

The Rise of AI Concerns: Notably, the rise of AI, embodied by ChatGPT, garnered attention from real-life authors. Multiple lawsuits, including a class-action suit led by the Authors Guild and prominent authors like George R.R. Martin and John Grisham, alleged that ChatGPT constituted a massive commercial enterprise engaging in systematic theft on a grand scale. The concern among authors was that AI-generated books could erode their earnings, further exacerbating their financial challenges.

Corporate Evolution: The corporate landscape of publishing underwent transformations as well. Simon & Schuster, a publishing powerhouse boasting authors like Stephen King and Hillary Clinton, found itself shifting ownership. Once deemed a non-core asset by Paramount Global, the publisher was ultimately sold to the private equity firm KKR, reflecting the complexities of corporate control within the industry.

Bannings and Diversity: Efforts within the publishing industry to promote diverse books clashed with a surge in bannings and attempted bannings, with works like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” facing removal from shelves. Authors and publishers grappled with striking the right balance, as evidenced by Scholastic’s attempt to segregate diverse books, which ultimately faced backlash.

Global Conflicts and Literary Community: The literary world found itself entangled in global conflicts, particularly the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, which divided the community and sparked controversies over author participation and book content. These events showcased the interconnectedness of literature and the broader world.

In sum, 2023 was a year of challenges and transformations in the publishing industry, marked by shifting trends in book sales, compelling literary achievements, concerns over AI’s role, and debates over diversity and censorship. As we look ahead, the world of books continues to evolve, reflecting the ever-changing landscape of our times.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Publishing Trends 2023

What were the key trends in book publishing in 2023?

In 2023, book publishing witnessed a mix of trends. Print sales cooled after a pandemic-era surge, fiction remained strong, AI concerns arose, and diversity and censorship debates intensified. Literary highlights and corporate shifts also shaped the industry.

Who were some notable authors and books in 2023?

Colleen Hoover, Sarah J. Maas, and Rebecca Yarros stood out in fiction. Justin Torres won the National Book Award for “Blackouts.” Other praised works included James McBride’s “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store” and Jonathan Eig’s “King” biography.

How did AI impact the publishing industry?

AI, represented by ChatGPT, raised concerns among authors. Lawsuits, including a class-action by the Authors Guild, alleged systematic theft. Authors worried about the potential for AI-generated books to reduce their earnings.

What corporate developments occurred in the publishing industry?

Simon & Schuster underwent ownership changes, transitioning from Paramount Global to private equity firm KKR. Paramount’s decision to divest the publisher reflected market dynamics and antitrust considerations.

What were the key challenges in promoting diverse books?

Efforts to promote diverse books clashed with a surge in bannings and attempted bannings, with works like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” facing removal. Striking a balance between diversity and censorship was a challenge, as seen in Scholastic’s attempt to segregate diverse books.

How did global conflicts impact the literary community?

The wars in Ukraine and Gaza divided the literary community, sparking controversies over author participation and book content. Authors, publishers, and events like the Frankfurt fair faced challenges related to these conflicts.

More about Publishing Trends 2023

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AIWatcher December 11, 2023 - 11:12 am

AI’s got writers worried, lawsuits flying, Authors Guild & big names concerned bout AI books, earnings at stake, industry shiftin!

Reader123 December 11, 2023 - 11:22 am

wow, so 2023 was quite a year for books huh, declining sales & rising drama, colleen hoover rockin it, AI troubles, sounds like a wild ride!

BookLover47 December 12, 2023 - 4:50 am

Print sales down but fiction still strong, thx to BookTok & Colleen Hoover, her novels top 10! Lit highlights: Justin Torres’ “Blackouts” & more!


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