Led by the fiction categories, unit sales of print books rose 8.9% in 2021 over 2020 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Units sold were 825.7 million last year, up from 757.9 million in 2020. BookScan captures approximately 85% of all print sales. In 2020, unit sales were up 8.2% over 2019, which saw 693.7 million print units sold.
The young adult fiction segment had the largest increase, with unit sales jumping 30.7%, while adult fiction sales rose 25.5%. Sales in the juvenile fiction category increased 9.6%.
Adult nonfiction sales rose 4.4% last year, while young adult nonfiction sales increased 8.3%. The juvenile nonfiction category was the only segment to have a sales decline last year, with sales dropping 6.2%. The decline was expected: sales in the category hit record levels in 2020 as parents looked for books that could both educate and entertain their children, who were stuck at home due to Covid-19–related school closures.
Within adult fiction, the graphic novel genre had the biggest increase, with units jumping 109.3%, followed by fantasy, which saw sales rise 45.3%. The top seller in the category was the backlist title The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which sold about 955,000 copies.
In adult nonfiction, the small travel subcategory, which was hammered in 2020, when few people traveled, had the biggest increase last year, with sales up 23%.3. The business/economic field had the second largest gain, with sales rising 19%. Those gains helped to offset a 17.9 % decline in sales of autobiographies/biographies/memoirs, which had big gains in 2020 due to sales of Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, which was the top-selling title in 2020, selling about 2.5 million print copies through outlets that report to BookScan.
The 9.6% increase in juvenile fiction sales was led by several big sellers, and the category had the #1 print seller in the year, Dog Man: Mothering Heights by Dav Pilkey, which sold just under 1.3 million copies. The category was also home to the year’s third biggest bestseller, Big Shot, the 16th volume in Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series, which sold more than 985,000 copies.
Gains in the young adult category were helped by several titles that benefitted from attention drummed up by BookTok, users of the social media platform TikTok who post about their favorite books. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, released in December 2018, was the #1 title in the category, selling nearly 685,000 copies.