Covid pandemic boosts US book sales in 2020

US printed book volumes rose 8.2% to 751 million

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.

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