In early spring, when the Covid-19 pandemic forced most bookstores to close and disrupted print book sales through Amazon, no one could have predicted that by summer unit sales of print books would be up 1.4% for the year to date over the same period in 2019, nor that sales would hit a weekly high for the year. But that is what happened in the week ended June 20, when unit sales from outlets that report to NPD BookScan topped 15 million—22.9% higher than the similar week last year—and total units sold for the year hit 295.7 million, up from 291.6 million in the first 24 weeks of 2019.
The increase came from a combination of continued strong sales of books on racism and social justice, as well as from Father’s Day books. Sales also benefitted from the slow reopening of more bookstores and continued solid online orders. The two top sellers in the week were How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, which sold about 138,000 and 107,000 copies, respectively. Since the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police on May 25, sales of books about race relations have soared. White Fragility, published by Beacon Press in June 2018, has sold 271,532 print copies so far this year, including 192,325 copies since the week ended May 23. It’s the 14th-bestselling print title of the year through June 20, according to BookScan.
Not too far behind White Fragility was Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, which was published in August 2019 by One World. It’s the 20th-bestselling print book of 2020 so far, and 186,957 of the 218,214 copies sold this year came after Floyd’s killing. Two other titles related to race in America are among BookScan’s top 50 bestsellers of the year to date: Just Mercy by Bryon Stevenson, which has sold a total of 168,177 copies, and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, which has sold 150,799 copies.
Looking at sales specifically for the week ended June 20, the 22.9% increase was driven by double-digit jumps across all six major categories. DiAngelo and Kendi led a 24.7% increase in adult nonfiction over the week ended June 22, 2019. A couple of nonfiction titles that likely saw Father’s Day boosts were Chris Wallace’s Countdown 1945, which sold about 49,000 copies in its second week, and The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larsson, which sold about 21,000 copies.
In adult fiction, Elin Hilderbrand’s 28 Summers had a solid debut, selling more than over 52,000 copies in its first week, contributing to a 20.1% increase in the category over 2019. (Last year at this time, Hilderbrand’s Summer of ’69 was the overall top title, selling about 46,000 copies). Two John Grisham books had a good week: Camino Winds sold more than 27,000 copies, and the mass market edition of The Guardians sold more than 14,000 copies in its first week.
Print unit sales of juvenile fiction rose 25.2% over 2019 in the week. We’re Different, We’re the Same, a Sesame Street title released in 1992 by Random House Books for Young Readers, saw sales skyrocket from 881 copies in the week ended June 13 to just over 42,000 in the most recent week. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins sold almost 58,000 copies in the week, helping to drive a 26.1% increase in the YA fiction category over the similar week last year.