It's In the Books: 2021 Sets Record for Most Annual Book Sales

Nicholas Barron

More print books were sold in 2021 than ever recorded by an industry analyst.

NPD BookScan, part of a research company called The NPD Group, said print book sales reached 825.7 million units last year. BookScan accounts for about 85% of all print book sales.

That’s 67.8 million units more than in 2020, and it’s the highest volume BookScan’s seen since it started tracking this data in 2004.

2021 is also the first time annual print book sales exceeded 800 million units.
Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

What did readers snag in 2021?

Jumps in fiction categories fueled much of 2021’s print book sales growth.

“Adult fiction experienced the highest absolute unit gains of any super-category for the year,” BookScan analyst Kristen McLean said.

Adult fiction sales rose 25.5% last year, good for 174 million books, 35 million more than 2020.

The biggest growth within adult fiction came from graphic novels and fantasy. Sales jumped 109.3% and 45.3%, respectively, in those subgenres.

2021 was also a banner year for young adult fiction. Sales in that genre vaulted 30.7% last year, boosted in part by readers promoting some titles on TikTok.

Publishers Weekly Jim Milliot writes that one title, in particular, 2018’s They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, benefitted from promotion by the BookTok community. Silvera’s book sold 685,000 copies last year.
Image from Publishers Weekly

Juvenile fiction sales rose 9.6% in 2021, led by the genre’s top bestseller, Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man: Mothering Heights. That book sold 1.3 million copies last year.

And adult nonfiction sales also went up last year, led by a resurgent travel subgenre, as many people resumed traveling following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, travel book sales grew 23% in 2021.

Sales dipped in two genres: autobiographies/biographies/memoirs and juvenile nonfiction.

Autobiography/biography/memoir sales dropped 17.9%, mainly due to fewer big-name releases than 2020. That year, former President Barack Obama’s A Promised Land hit shelves, selling 2.5 million copies.

And juvenile nonfiction sales fell 6.2% as more schools resumed in-person classes and fewer parents were educating their kids at home.

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