More than one out of every six books sold in the US in the first half of 2021 were e-books

Port Washington, N.Y., October 6, 2021 — Last year in 2020 marked the first time since 2013 that annual e-book unit sales from leading U.S. publishers grew, increasing by 22%, year over year, according to The NPD Group. With many brick-and-mortar bookstores closed, due to pandemic restrictions last year, sales in the e-book format benefited. However, so far in 2021 e-book growth has slowed and monthly levels were more consistent with 2019 pre-pandemic sales. For the year-to-date through June 2021, unit sales declined by 8%, versus last year, but sales were still 8% higher than they were in 2019 before the pandemic.

“With brick-and-mortar stores closed last year, e-books were simply easier to buy than print books,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for NPD. “The digital format allowed for frictionless, virus-free purchasing. Now that bookstores are open again, we expect full-year 2021 e-book volume to fall below 2020 levels, with the caveat that supply-chain disruption could cause another lift, if key books are unavailable during the holidays. Regardless, the e-book format will definitely remain a vital ongoing part of the U.S. book market — and a key format for certain categories.”

E-books made up more than one out of every six books sold

When combining print and e-book sales across all categories, e-books account for 18% of sales, or more than one in six books sold. In the 12 months ending June 2021, e-books lost one share point, compared to the previous year. Absolute print book sales gains were eight times more than e-book gains. 

Adult fiction posted the largest e-book share, accounting for 41% of combined sales, but it also lost the most format share points compared to prior year, down 3 points. “January 2021 sales got a bump from Julia Quinn’s ‘Bridgerton’ book series,” McLean said. “Sales fell back to normal levels the following month and have performed more in line with 2019 volume since then.”

About NPD Books
With the explosion of content generated by print books, streaming video-on-demand services, podcasts, and audiobooks, our culture is increasingly dominated by the stories we tell. In this interconnected media landscape, books are where some of today’s hottest media properties get their start. But as retail and consumer change accelerates, it can be a challenge to make sense of it all. We work with all the major players in U.S. publishing, retail, media, and toys to understand how digital and print content is evolving. Our books industry experts know the publishing world inside and out; they tap into our point-of-sale data to help you make better and faster decisions in today’s market.