NPD: One in Four Books Is Purchased in the USA During the Holidays

In News by Porter Anderson

The week of November 14 kicks off holiday shopping in the US. NPD reports the highest week of book sales so far this year.

A sign of the season in Manhattan: the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree scaffolded for decorating, November 20. Image – iStockphoto: Massimo Giachetti

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

Almost 173 Million Books in Two Months Last Year
Just to clarify the importance of the decorative season we’re entering, the NPD BooksKristen McLean is clarifying today (November 23) that the United States’ book market is dependent on the winter holiday season for 25 percent of its annual print sales.

Almost 173 million books were sold in November and December last year, the company’s data shows.

McLean, who’s the lead books industry analyst for NPD, is bullish on the chances for the American industry to end this strange year strongly, telling the news media, “Book sales have been stronger than normal throughout the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, so publishers have reason to be hopeful for good holiday tidings, and a strong finish to 2020.

“Historically,” she says, “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.”

Image: NPD Group / NPD BookScan, US print sales, 52 weeks ending January 4 2020

‘Holiday Intentions,’ Among Surveyed Consumers

One useful tool in regard to this important season is NPD’s “2020 Holiday Intentions” consumer survey, which tells McLean that US consumers say they plan to spend an average $691 on holiday shopping this year. That’s a mild decline from last year but compares well with the survey responses of two years ago.

McLean’s colleague Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry research adviser, says that this year’s caution may be mitigated by the need for some “retail therapy.”

  • And McLean looks to releases including Barack Obama’s memoir, volume one,  A Promised Land (Penguin Random House, released last week) to get things moving.
  • She also points to Ready Player Two by Armada author Ernest Cline, set to release Tuesday from Penguin Random House / Ballentine. That new work is a bestseller at Amazon at this writing, while on pre-order, in the Teen and YA Literature & Fiction classification.
  • In childrens’ books, she points to The World Needs Who You Were Made To Be by Joanna Gaines, a picture book from Thomas Nelson, released on November 10. That one is on the Amazon Charts for its first week, at No. 8 on the “Most Sold” side of the list.
Midway Through November: US Book Market Up 7.2 Percent

Image: The NPD Group / NPD BookScan, through November 14, 2020, US print sales only

In her rolling weekly assessment, McLean reports seeing the US market rebound in the week ending November 14, from a slower week to a gain of 7.2 percent on a unit basis on the year, a rise of 6.1 percent on value, going by manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP).

“We have no doubt this growth trend will continue next week and expect sales will hit another 2020 high due to president Obama’s highly anticipated A Promised Land,” she says in her media messaging today.

“With volume 20 percent higher than the same week in 2019, this week marks the highest week of unit sales for the print market so far this year. The volume of 15.5 million units signals the start of the seasonal climb.”

Highest growth in that week ending in the middle of the month was seen in in adult nonfiction—biography and cooking leading the way. Also strong was juvenile fiction with humorous stories and holiday content following.

In terms of the drop seen in the previous week, McLean points, understandably, to “election distraction.”

Image: The NPD Group / NPD BookScan, through November 14, 2020, US print sales only

As seen above, Week 45 of 2020 sees all of NPD’s scanned super-categories growing week over week, with juvenile fiction gaining 700,000 units compared to the previous week. Christmas books topped the list.

NPD Books sees this as an indication of an earlier start to holiday shopping than in the past, something many in the retail sector have encouraged among consumers.


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

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 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. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.