Covid pandemic boosts US book sales in 2020

US printed book volumes rose 8.2% to 751 million

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More time for reading at home in 2020 Photo Matty Powell via Unsplash
More time for reading at home in 2020 Photo Matty Powell via Unsplash

According to the NPD Group’s latest statistics, printed book sales in the United States in 2020 had their highest growth rates since 2010. Increases occurred across every major market segment, including fiction, nonfiction, juvenile, and teen categories. Unit-sales volume in 2020 rose by 8.2% to reach 751 million units.

NPD, one of the largest market research companies and since January 2017 owner of Nielsen’s book market information services in the United States, clearly attributes the increase to the Covid pandemic. In a statement issued on 7 January 2021, NPD Book industry analyst Kristen McLean says, “The US consumer book market looks very different today than it did back in April. From the sudden need to educate kids at home, sales growth came in waves to the super-heated political cycle. All of the additional time people spent at home created a big appetite for reading, including huge spikes in sales of cookbooks and do-it-yourself books, which helped people stay entertained and engaged.”

Adult nonfiction tops US book sales

Growth in printed books was led by juvenile nonfiction, which grew by 23% (14 million) to a total of 77 million units. Juvenile fiction print books, the second-largest category on a volume basis, increased 11%, selling 18 million more units in 2020 as compared to 2019, contributing to one-third of all growth in the US book market and totaling 186 million units. Adult nonfiction print books, the largest category of books in the US by both volume (309 million units) and sales revenue, increased 4.8% (14 million units). In contrast, adult fiction grew by 8% (8 million units), totaling 138 million units.

Earlier NPD statistics had shown that 67% of unit sales in the top 100 literary fiction books in 2019 came from books written by female authors. Women authors were responsible for 42% of unit sales for the top 100 books in the overall print book market in 2019 – up from 30% in 2010. 39 of the top 100 bestselling authors were women, up from 33 in 2010. Leading the way over all these years, of course, has been JK Rowling with her Harry Potter series exceeding 55 million copies, across more than 300 editions of her many titles. However, in the nonfiction segment, a man named Barack Obama has taken the lead, with 835,000 copies sold in the first week of its release breaking the record for first-week sales of a presidential memoir. Due to high demand, the initial 3.4 million copy run of the North American edition alone was increased to 4.3 million.

Led by Obama’s memoir, sales of biography and autobiography books have grown by 3.4 million units in 2020, contributing to 20% of the growth in nonfiction books. Says McLean, “Nonfiction books of all kinds fared very well this year, bolstered by the excitement surrounding the presidential election and with the additional reading time afforded by pandemic mitigation orders. From political memoirs to nonfiction books about race and political commentary and opinion, US readers were reading books at a higher rate than usual.”

The taste for books seems to have increased during the pandemic. One can only hope that readers will not lose their habits once the health situation gets better.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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