Riding strong gains in the second half of the year, bookstore sales increased 39% in 2021 over 2020, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales were $9.03 billion, compared to sales of $6.50 billion in pandemic-ravaged 2020.

The rebound was not quite enough to bring 2021 bookstore sales back to 2019 levels, falling 1% below 2019 sales of $9.13 billion.

Consumers apparently did buy books early and often in the fourth quarter of 2021. December bookstore sales increased 33.6% over December 2020, rising to $1.20 billion from $900 million in December 2020. The December increase followed sales jumps of 53% in October and 43% in November.

Consumers had been advised to shop early to avoid missing out on items because of supply chain problems, advice they seem to have followed. Analysts had predicted that an early start to the holiday shopping season would lead to a strong increase overall, since consumers tend to continue shopping in the weeks closer to Christmas even when they start early.

The 28% increase in bookstore sales for 2021 was higher than the 19.3% increase for the entire retail sector.

This story has been updated to correct a percentage change error for the increase between 2020 and 2021.