Coronavirus Worklife, US Ebook Market: NPD Sees a 31-Percent Jump in Unit Sales in April

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Following Monday’s Q2 report, NPD PubTrack Digital data shows a big jump in ebook sales when April’s lockdowns were ordered—children’s fiction jumped 78 percent that month.

In Chicago on April 18, citizens wait to pick up donated coronavirus personal protection equipment (PPE). Image – iStockphoto: Jason Whitman

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Children’s Ebook Nonfiction: Up 39 Percent in April
On the heels of its second-quarter report on the American book market, which we covered here on Monday, the NPD Group today (July 21) has released new data showing that ebook unit sales in April rose by nearly a third over the previous month: a new indication of how consumers reached for digital retail under the constraints of COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Year over year through April, NPD PubTrack Digital saw trade ebook sales decline by 6 percent, a total 55 million units sold. But Kristen McLean, who leads book industry analysis for NPD, says that when she looks only at April—in many parts of the States the first full month of stay-at-home measures—ebooks made that 31-percent jump in unit sales over March, selling an additional 4.2 million units.

“With brick-and-mortar retail bookstores shut down in the United States this spring,” she says, “the ebook format became more popular during the COVID-19 crisis. Ebooks are easy to purchase, can be read instantly after being downloaded, and eliminate any concerns over infection or availability.”

Image: NPD Group

Leading Adult Ebook Titles

Sales growth for adult ebooks was led by general fiction, which rose 23 percent in April compared to March according to data from NPD BookScan.

The leading general fiction title in April was Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere (Penguin Books, 2017). The film tie-in was released in March, the same month that Liz Tigelaar’s Hulu series adaptation with Reese Witherspoon premiered.

The romance category posted 22-percent growth in April compared to March, led by First Comes Scandal by Julia Quinn (HarperCollins / Avon, April).

Adult nonfiction title unit sales grew 37 percent in April compared to March 2020.

Categories with the highest ebook unit growth included biography and memoir, which rose 40 percent in April, led by the April 2020 Oprah Book Club selection, Robert Kolker’s Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family (Penguin Random House / Doubleday, April).

Cooking ebooks posted the second-highest unit growth, rising 96 percent in unit sales in April compared to previous month.

Children’s and YA  Ebook Unit Sales

Children’s ebooks declined 12 percent over the first half of the year, with 5.1 million units sold, McLean points out.

But in April, children’s ebook fiction grew 78 percent in April over March, while children’s nonfiction grew 39 percent.

General fiction experienced highest unit growth in April, she says, up 72 percent over March, driven by top growth titles like The Bad Seed by Jory John and illustrator Pete Oswald (HarperCollins, 2017), and the Pete the Cat series by James and Kimberly Dean (HarperCollins).

Young adult ebook sales grew 10 percent over to 2019, driven largely by double-digit increase in fiction sales.

The science-fiction category enjoyed the highest unit-sales gain, led by The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2010), and The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.

At this writing, the 5:34 a.m. ET update (0934 GMT) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center shows the United States with 3,831,430 infections and 141,118 fatalities in a population of 328 million.

In Manhattan’s Lower East Side on April 10. Image – iStockphoto: Image Kit


More from Publishing Perspectives on the United States market is here, more from us on Kristen McLean and NPD is here, and more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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