Strong book sales numbers in the first half of 2021 set the stage for what should be a great holiday season for published authors.
As much of the world reopened in the first half of this year, there was one industry that held its breath about the effects of our newly regained freedoms. The publishing industry was one of the few marketplaces that experienced growth during the dark COVID-19 quarantine days. After years of slumping sales caused by competition with streaming services, video games, and the like, book sales rose eight percent in 2020 over the previous year.
In retrospect, that shouldn’t be a surprise. During a time when people were looking for diversion and distraction beyond video screens, books of all subjects and genres were selling around the globe. Publishers and authors were grateful for this small silver lining.
So, as life slowly returns to near normal, book industry watchers had one big question on their minds: Would the newly vaccinated public flock back to bars, restaurants, theaters, and concerts and forget about their renewed love affair with books?
The results are in
The results are in, and authors should rejoice. Printed book sales are growing faster than ever before. Physical book units grew 18.5 percent in the first half of 2021 over 2020 sales according to NPD BookScan. Nearly 387 million physical books were sold from January to June 2021.
It’s important to note that NPD BookScan only counts units from traditional publishers, which means these numbers do not include the millions of books sold by self-published authors. So, while the actual increases are probably impossible to compute, they’re very likely four to six times larger!
One fascinating data point that caught my eye: Backlist titles had the strongest gains, up 21.4 percent, while frontlist sale increases were a solid 12.4 percent. That should serve as a reminder that there’s life in every book you’ve published. The inventory and backlist titles you create can be money in the bank with the right marketing and exposure.
The news that seems most encouraging for the overall author community is that the growth curve encompasses just about every book category.
Adult nonfiction. The biggest overall category, adult nonfiction, grew from 134 million to 155 million, a 15.6 percent boost. Going inside the numbers, sales of self-help books had the largest gain, up 32.1 percent. Next came business and economics books — up 24 percent — while home and gardening and general nonfiction had increases of just over 22 percent.
Adult fiction. Adult fiction units surged 31 percent, growing to 81 million units. Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds led the way with sales of nearly 560,000 copies since its release in February. The next 15 spots are a mix of both new releases and backlist titles.
YA fiction. Young adult fiction titles nearly doubled in sales, rising 49 percent in the year-over-year study. Interestingly enough, the top title in the category, They Both Die at the End, by Adam Silvera, was first published in December 2018. The book caught fire on BookTok, a community of readers on TikTok who post videos reviewing and recommending books. The video form has boosted sales of a large number of YA titles this year.
In fact, the only category to see a decline, juvenile nonfiction, was expected to lose ground year-over-year. This segment experienced a massive 25 percent increase in 2019 as home-schooling and a general demand for books geared toward helping parents educate and entertain their children soared.
The results, when sorted by book formats, show a surprising gain for hardcovers. Book buyers helped this durable format grow over 23 percent, while trade paperbacks increased 17 percent.
It’s a great time to publish a book
All this good news serves to underscore one of my favorite sayings: There’s never a bad time to publish a book. As these numbers show no signs of slowing as we head into the profitable Q4 timeframe, today is a great day to finish your book.
Here’s one more bit of inspiration: The 2021 BookBaby catalog has been updated with all the newest publishing products and services available for self-published authors including:
- Quality in-house paperback and hardcover book printing
- A team of world-class copy and line editors
- Distribution to the world’s largest bookstores and online retailers
- And plenty more
Like the headline says, it’s a great time to publish a book, and you still have time to get yours to market in time for the holidays.
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The Basics Of Print On Demand (and how POD changed publishing)
Your Publishing Timeline For Holiday Book Sales
Facebook Ads: My Self-Publishing Experience
What’s the best time to publish your book?