US Market Update: Continued Growth, 5.6 Percent Up in Units

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Nonfiction continues strong in the American market amid the traditional August slowdown, and ahead of a release-heavy autumn.

Image: The NPD Group / NPD BookScan, through August 22, 2020, US print sales only

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

Juvenile Nonfiction Boosted by Educational Challenges
In her report on the American market for the week ending August 22, NPD Books‘ Kristen McLean sees an 18th week of increased book sales, since the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic imposed its peak restrictions on physical retail.

The NPD Group’s research team stresses in McLean’s message to the media, that the weekly volume she’s seeing (in what is Week 33 of 2020) is very good for the latter part of August, coming in at some 14 million units.

In that week, McLean reports, “The market is up 5.6 percent for the year on a unit basis, on sales of 422 million units and US$7.27 billion MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) value year-to-date.

Juvenile nonfiction continues to stand out, McLean says, having added 2 percent in two weeks.

For a rationale to this, she points to “the unusual back-to-school period,” which “has further increased the buying of workbooks and other educational materials to support more learning from home.”

In fiction, McLean sees Stephanie Meyers’ Midnight Sun, released August 4 by Hachette’s Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers maintaining its No. 1 slot on the bestseller list on sales of 59,000. “That’s pretty sleepy for a book that has sold 722,000 units in NPD BookScan since release three weeks ago,” McLean writes, “and it underlines the reason new books are rarely released at the end of August.”

Adult nonfiction—which, as we’ve reported—is being sharply driven by politically charged releases this season amid the intensifying Biden-Trump race. Fox News opinion host Sean Hannity’s Live Free or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink from Simon & Schuster’s Threshold Editions imprint by August 22 had moved to the No. 2 spot with sales of 57,000 units.

In an update today (September 1), Simon & Schuster tells Publishing Perspectives that Hannity’s book, released on August 4, now has sold 500,000 copies in three weeks on the market, including pre-orders, hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

The book has gone to press for a fourth printing, S&S says, that will result in there being 630,000 copies in print.

Another strong entry McLean points to is Glennon Doyle’s memoir Untamed (Penguin Random House/Dial Press, March 10), which McLean notes made a jump to the No. 3 spot on BookScan’s charts when it received an endorsement on Instagram from the recording artist and songwriter Adele.

Echoing some of her commentary in our interview in May, however, McLean warns that a very tumultuous autumn for books is ahead in the US market.

“A glut of postponed releases,” she says, combined with Stateside strains in available printing capacity and what may well be a “hyper-accelerated holiday cycle–as the broader retail sector tries to make up losses from the pandemic’s market challenges–can be expected to influence the coming season.

McLean does note that in the week ending August 22, unit sales were down 1 percent from the previous week, though value was up the same 1 percent (based on MSRP). This, she says, indicates a shift toward higher-priced formats.

Should things continue as they’re doing in the US market, she says, it could see a “very strong finish” to 2020, despite the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic.

Image: The NPD Group / NPD BookScan, through August 22, 2020, US print sales only

Fiction categories, McLean reports, continue to maintain the gains, year-to-date, generated over the summer.

For our readers outside the United States, McLean’s references to the educational drivers behind children’s nonfiction refers to the start-stop struggle that K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities are having in many parts of the US market, as coronavirus outbreaks intervene in efforts to provide in-person instruction.

With so many school districts in the United States, it has been hard to get accurate counts on the aggregate incidence of infection in the pre-college range. A new tool, the COVID Monitor, is being brought online by Florida public health data scientist Rebekah Jones to track and assess the progress of the contagion in the market’s educational settings at the national level. Note that at this point, the program is still being built out and its picture isn’t yet rendering the full picture.

As CNN is reporting, by Sunday, 36 of the country’s 50 states had registered 8,700 cases of COVID-19 at colleges and universities alone. At the University of Alabama, at least 1,200 students were reported to have tested positive for the pathogen.

At this writing, the 5:28 a.m. ET update (0928 GMT) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 6,036,569 infections in the US population of 328 million, with 183,689 fatalities. The Sunbelt states, previously exhibiting heavy increases in cases, have leveled off somewhat, and the strongest surgest, generally, are at this point seen largely in the Midwest.

New York, formerly the epicenter of the American outbreaks, now is hovering at 1-percent or less infection rate.

Dining outdoors at the Hyatt Union Square with masks, on August 26. Image – iStockphoto: WDStock


More from Publishing Perspectives on industry statistics is here. More from us on Kristen McLean and NPD is here, More 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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