NPD Books: US Sales of Social Justice and Race Books Soar in 2021

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

This, as HarperCollins announces today that it has become the official publisher of the archives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Judith Curr speaks of ‘how inclusive Dr. King’s work is.’

At Washington’s Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House, May 34. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Tim Brown

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

Growth Trend: ‘Social Science and Discrimination’
This year through May, adult nonfiction topics in social justice and race have sold 700,000 more units than in 2020 year-to-date in the United States’ book market.

That’s one of the figures released today (June 22) by NPD Group books industry analyst Kristen McLean, who sees that as a 160-percent level of growth over titles sold in the same thematic focal area from January through May last year. And the news arrives as HarperCollins releases the news that it now has world rights to publish from the archives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  More on that is below.

“Notably,” McLean says, the titles she’s watching are “all frontlist, published in the last year. In 2020, there was an incredible surge in interest in these topics, and book buyers continue to seek out books that help them understand and address racism. New voices on these subjects continue to find an audience.”

In terms of conceptualizing the trend, McLean says that the highest growth rate was seen in titles related to “social science and discrimination.”

Unit sales in that category grew nearly 200 percent, she says, year-over-year, and in the lead this year is Heather McGhee’s  The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (Penguin Random House / One World).

More titles driving growth in this subject area:

McLean, in messaging the media this morning, says, “Last year, Amistad Press, an imprint of HarperCollins, started the #BlackoutBestsellerList hashtag campaign on social media to help support Black writers and demonstrate their power and clout in the publishing industry.

“The campaign encouraged readers to purchase any two books by Black writers between June 14 and June 20. The week ending June 20 marked the first week that print unit sales volume exceeded 15 million in 2020, aided in part by the success of the campaign and ongoing interest in books related to this cultural conversation.”

HarperCollins: Official MLK Publisher

Also in news today on the subject: HarperOne Group president and publisher Judith Curr has announced that the HarperCollins is now the official publisher of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s archives, the publisher having achieved world rights to publish in all formats including children’s books, digital formats, journals, and graphic novels, in all languages.

HarperOne Group will appoint an archivist to handle access to the material, making it available to HarperCollins’ international corps of editors. The company says it will engage Black scholars, actors, artists, performers, and social activists “to help bring King’s works to life.”

Judith Curr

In a prepared statement, Curr is quoted, saying, “We view this as a unique global publishing program, leveraging the company’s collective creative efforts to develop region-specific yet universally appealing publications that illustrate how extensive and inclusive Dr. King’s work is.

“We see this as an opportunity to further solidify Dr. King’s legacy as one of the world’s essential figures in the fight for justice and equality.”

Brian Murray

And HarperCollins president and CEO Brian Murray says, “Dr. King has been  an inspiration to generations of people throughout the world.

“We’re proud to have been the  original publisher of Dr. King’s first books and are excited by the prospect of expanding his  reach in new ways.

“We look forward to the opportunity to remind readers everywhere just how  timeless Dr. King’s words are, and how their themes continue to resonate worldwide.”

First publication of titles in the United States from the agreement with the King estate, which is managed by Eric D. Tidwell, is anticipated to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the States in January.

New in Political Books

Out today from Melville House, The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything is journalist Mike Rothschild’s book on the conspiracy theory and its peculiar hold on the Trumpist elements of the American electorate. 

A concept of social justice that rests on the idea that Democratic Party leaders are cannibalizing children has reached a level of attention that casts Trump in a messianic light.

While many in the news media use language that indicates QAnon followers “believe” the many outlandish tenets that lie under the movement’s big tent—to the disgruntled right wing, it may be more a theory-of-convenience than a genuine belief system—Rothschild’s release comes at a moment of fast-rising concern about QAnon’s warping of the Republican base.

In a recent interview, Rothschild advised that those who have friends and/or family members aligned with QAnon not try to contradict or criticize the cult’s ideas, for fear of driving adherents farther away. Instead, he recommended, simply let devotees “know you’re there,” still friendly, so that at the moment an element of the program’s preposterous illogic surfaces, that person might be able to reach out to talk about it.

And releasing on July 6, former federal prosecutor Elie Honig’s Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor’s Code and Corrupted the Justice Department (HarperCollins) has gained new interest amid the revelations of the Justice Department’s subpoenas in a classified leak inquiry to obtain communications of sitting House Intelligence Committee members and those of journalists at major news media including The New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN.

As many are pointing out, Barr’s eventual public disagreement with Trump’s “Big Lie”—that he was robbed of an election victory in 2020—came much too late to exonerate him for distorting the Mueller report’s key findings, sentencing decisions that favored Trump, and more.

In a Q&A with Rutgers Today, Honig—who teaches at Rutgers University and is a CNN senior legal analyst—said, “The new revelation that the Department of Justice [DOJ] under Barr took intrusive steps to secretly obtain private phone records of journalists and members of Congress shows us that we still don’t know the full depths of his corruption and abuse of power.

“It appears he was willing to use DOJ not only to protect Trump but also to pursue perceived political enemies, which is even more dangerous. It’s even worse than we knew when Barr left office.”

Lastly, here’s something you don’t see often: a book for children on authoritarian rule.

This Is a Dictatorship (Book Island, September) was originally published in 1977 after the 1975 death of Francisco Franco of Spain.

With translations already on the market in 10 languages, the book—with Mikel Casal’s new illustrations—was freshly published by Spain’s Media Vaca for its (sad) relevance today, to help children understand what dictatorship means.

The United Kingdom’s Book Island has adjusted the new publication outlook from what was to have been this spring to September, and pre-orders are being taken here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on nonfiction is here, more on political books is here, and more on Donald Trump is here.

More from us 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 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.