A number of big summer bestsellers, a surge in interest in books on social justice, and ongoing demand by parents for children’s books that both educate and entertain combined to continue to push up unit sales of print books through this year’s third quarter. According to NPD BookScan, print unit sales rose 6.4% for the nine months ended Oct. 3, 2020 over the comparable span in 2019.
Unit sales jumped 29.1% in the juvenile nonfiction category, led by huge demand for Big Preschool Workbook, which sold nearly 649,000 print copies in the period, and My First Learn-to-Write Workbook by Crystal Radke, which sold almost 595,000 copies.
YA nonfiction, which is the smallest of the six major categories, had the biggest gains, with 2.5 million units sold in the first nine months of 2020. Live by Sadie Robertson Huff was the top seller in the category, selling more than 101,000 copies. YA nonfiction also benefitted from the continuing misclassification of Johanna Basford’s adult coloring books. Three of her backlist titles combined to sell about 120,000 copies in the period, and adult coloring books in general saw gains during Covid-19 lockdowns.
Two books tied to social justice issues were among the top 20 bestsellers overall in 2020 to date, giving a small lift to print unit sales in the adult nonfiction category. Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility sold more than 777,000 copies through October 3, and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi sold more than 615,000 copies. Adult nonfiction was also home to several summer blockbusters, including Mary L. Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough, which sold more than 1.1 million copies since its release in July and was the #1 print seller in the first nine months, and John Bolton’s In The Room Where It Happened, which sold more than 661,000 copies since its late-June publication.
Two new titles by popular authors helped to drive sales up 18.6% in the YA fiction category. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins sold close to 1.1 million copies since its mid-May release, and Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer sold almost 985,000 copies following its publication in early August. The titles were second and third, respectively, on the overall bestseller list for the first nine months of 2020.
Juvenile fiction sales rose 9.5% over the first nine months of 2019. Dav Pilkey’s Grime and Punishment (Dog Man #9) was the top title in the category, selling almost 590,000 copies following its September 1 release. Pilkey’s Fetch 22 (Dog Man #8), published in October 2019, was second on the list, selling about 484,000 copies so far this year.
Adult fiction unit sales rose 3.5% in the period, led by two backlist titles (Where the Crawdads Sing and Little Fires Everywhere), followed by Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, which sold 448,000 copies, and American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, which sold more than 445,000 copies.
Among the major print formats, unit sales of trade paperbacks were up 8.3% over the first nine months of 2019, and hardcover sales rose 6.2%. Unit sales of mass market paperbacks continued to fall, but the 6.2% decline was much lower than the 15.3% drop the format had for the full year in 2019.