US Book Industry: NPD Sees More Gains in July, 16 Percent Over 2019

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The US book trade continues an upward trend in unit sales over some 15 weeks, says NPD’s Kristen McLean, especially good ‘for the dog days of summer.’

July 4 on South Beach, Miami. Image – iStockphoto: Jason Heid

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

NPD’s Kristen McLean: ‘This Powerful Recovery’
Cautioning that as we move into the autumn, the United States’ book industry needs to focus more on “the larger themes of the market and the macro/micro forces behind them,” NPD BooksKristen McLean sees the American book market up 4.5 percent year-to-date in the week ending August. 1.

This look at July shows sales fueling that rise to include 378 million units and a valuation of US$6.5 billion.

“Weekly volume was a healthy 13.8 million units,” she says, “very good for the dog days of summer, and one of the reasons it was up 16 percent for July 2020 compared to the same month last year.”

And it’s worth pausing to take that in. As the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic continues to balloon the American caseload and death count far beyond that of any country, the book publishing industry is moving ahead and growing.

“The factors driving this powerful recovery,” according to McLean, “include a strong market for books and ideas related to civil rights, history, and discrimination, as well as the highly charged environment for political books from both the right and the left.”

Not for nothing, in other words, is a lot of interest focused on the last 24 hours’ announcement that journalist Bob Woodward has written a second book on Donald Trump, to follow his 2018 release, Fear: Trump in the White House. Again from Simon & Schuster, Woodward’s new Rage is scheduled for a September 15 release.

NPD’s report also points out that Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, also from Simon & Schuster, was No. 1 for a third week, and the book this week is No. 1 on the Amazon Charts for most read, No. 3 for most sold. Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century from Penguin Random House is at No. 2, a book released in February 2017.

‘This Is Remarkable’

In her commentary on July 2020, Kristen McLean writes, ‘While our week-over-week performance was a little bit down for the second week in a row, we remained more than 15 percent above the same week in 2019 in both units and MSRP. We have now seen 15 straight weeks of upward lift since our low the week after Easter.’ Image: The NPD Group / NPD BookScan, through August 1, 2020, US print sales only

McLean’s detailed view of what’s happening to the world’s largest book market in the teeth of the pandemic recently has included indicators of how much the US industry has to feel good about.

In her report on the week ending July 18, she wrote of looking at a seventh consecutive week of book sales growth, concluding, “This is remarkable.”

Kristen McLean

And what this is coming down to, she writes, is the very intensity of the era, which might well have been expected to stagger the business. But “as people look for information, inspiration, distraction, and education,” she wrote then, 2020 is following suit: The consumers are there, and they’re reading—not just in spite of the virus but because of it.

Now, in her new report, McLean points to how “all supercategories are in healthy year-do-date growth except adult nonfiction, which has nearly recovered from its weekly volume falling more than 50 percent during the acute period of the COVID-19 crisis.” That recovery, of course, is one of the things accelerated by the success of those political books.

She does caution, however, that the ride is not smooth.

“While the topline growth is encouraging,” she writes, “the specifics of what is driving the growth are volatile. We’re seeing double- and triple-digit swings (upward and/or downward) in the titles and categories driving trends on a weekly and a monthly basis,” she says.

“Currently, the election and parents’ concerns over educating their kids are taking center stage as summer yields to fall’s reality.”

Image: The NPD Group / NPD BookScan, YTD August 1, 2020, US print sales only

And one of the realities of that coming fall season is a kind of American rentrée littéraire in which an unusual load of titles, even for the autumn, are expected to be released onto the market. Many publishers found huge holes punched into their spring and summer lists by the contagion’s impact, and lots of titles have been postponed to the fall.

Much as French booksellers have tried to communicate to publishers that they can’t handle the hundreds of titles in the annual rentrée, the same soon may be heard from US booksellers—and consumers. Debut authors are expected to struggle, in particular, because many of the delayed releases of the fall are from big names, of course.

In its 8:27 a.m. ET update (1227 GMT), the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center cites a world-leading caseload for the United States of 5,197,749 infections and a death toll of 166,038 in a population of 328 million.

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 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.