One in Four Books in the U.S. is Purchased During the Holidays, The NPD Group Says

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Publishers and authors have reason to be hopeful for good holiday tidings

The NPD Group / NPD BookScan, U.S. print book sales, year ending January 4, 2020.

Weekly Print Book Unit Sales (U.S.)

Book sales have been stronger than normal throughout the pandemic, so publishers have reason to be hopeful for good holiday tidings, and a strong finish to 2020.

The holidays are always an exciting time of the year, but they can be make or break months for the U.S. publishing industry, since that’s when one-quarter (25%) of annual print book sales occur. Nearly 173 million books were sold in November and December 2019, according to The NPD Group (

“Historically, the uptick in sales begins in the first week of November, but as the country continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are watching closely to see if we see the same book shopping patterns as in previous years,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for NPD. “Book sales have been stronger than normal throughout the pandemic, so publishers have reason to be hopeful for good holiday tidings, and a strong finish to 2020.”

Holiday 2020

According the “2020 Holiday Intentions” survey from NPD, U.S. consumers plan to spend an average of $691 on holiday shopping this year, which is a slight decline from last year, but remains in line with the planned spending two years ago. “The state of the economy has consumers more cautious,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry research advisor for NPD, “but they still look to the holidays to provide a break, and some retail therapy.”

“The U.S. publishing industry has some long-anticipated books coming out just in time for the holidays, which will no doubt make their way onto holiday gift lists,” McLean said, “Barack Obama’s new memoir, ‘A Promised Land,’ is expected to be one of the biggest books of the year, and sci-fi fans are eagerly anticipating ‘Ready Player Two’ by Ernest Cline. On the children’s side, Joanna Gaines’ newest picture book ‘The World Needs Who You Were Made to Be’ will certainly be on the top of many holiday lists.”

Holidays Past

The top-selling book category during the 2019 holiday season was adult general fiction, selling 7.5 million units in November and December, with top titles like “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens, and “The Dutch House,” by Ann Patchett. Adult general non-fiction was the second biggest-selling category, led by “Talking to Strangers,” by Malcom Gladwell, and “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz.

When it came to books for kids, sci-fi and fantasy fiction was the largest selling category in 2019, thanks in large part to the bestselling “Dog Man: Fetch-22,” by Dav Pilkey. “We can often get a high-level read on potential leading categories, based on what has happened in the past,” McLean said. “However, it’s always the hot new titles that drive the holiday shopping market. We’re always watching for that unexpected best-seller to make the year for U.S. publishers.”


About NPD BookScan
NPD BookScan is the gold standard in point-of-sale tracking for the publishing market, covering approximately 85 percent of all the print books sold in the U.S. through direct reporting from all major retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Target, independent bookstores, and many others. Each sale of the more than 13 million units tracked on a weekly basis includes geographic information making it possible to identify key markets, map regional sales trends, and index the likelihood of purchase in 200 major metro areas. NPD BookScan is also the exclusive provider of ALR data for Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, and Sam’s Club to U.S. publishers.

NPD PubTrack Digital offers a comprehensive view of today’s digital book market. Featuring information from more than 450 participants, including small, medium, and large U.S. publishers, this service provides unprecedented access to the top 80 percent of the traditionally published e-book market.

About The NPD Group, Inc.
NPD offers data, industry expertise, and prescriptive analytics to help our clients grow their businesses in a changing world. Over 2,000 companies worldwide rely on us to help them measure, predict, and improve performance across all channels, including brick-and-mortar, e-commerce, and B2B. We have services in 19 countries worldwide, with operations spanning the Americas, Europe, and APAC. Practice areas include apparel, appliances, automotive, beauty, books, B2B technology, consumer technology, e-commerce, fashion accessories, food consumption, foodservice, footwear, home, juvenile products, media entertainment, mobile, office supplies, retail, sports, toys, and video games. For more information, visit Follow us on Twitter: @npdgroup.

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