The evergreen staple of summer reading, thrillers make up nearly one in eight adult fiction books sold

Port Washington, N.Y., August 31, 2021 – Year in and year out, the thrillers and suspense category is one of the most dependable sources of bestsellers in the U.S. fiction market. In fact, thrillers make up nearly one in eight adult fiction print and e-books sold, according to The NPD Group. So far this year, thrillers are the third largest-selling category with unit sales for adult thrillers when combining print and e-book sales, reaching 14.1 million units for the year to date through month-ending May 2021, but sales have dropped 6% over last year.

There have been some notable new thrillers released in 2021 and the category is up slightly over last year. However, it has fallen behind the pace set by the rest of the adult fiction market, which has risen by 15%, in combined print and e-book formats through month ending May 2021.

“As with Christmas books, there is always room for another great thriller on the shelf,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for NPD. “It’s a core evergreen category that’s always ripe for new energy. Still, in 2021 the category has not kept up with overall fiction growth trends, but perhaps not for obvious reasons.”

Are people just less interested in thrillers than they used to be?

While it is possible that the category might be ripe for an overhaul, other factors are more likely to be driving down the performance of this category this year. Part of the declining growth in thrillers seems to be due to changes in consumer tastes, but it’s also true that books that have traditional elements of thriller and suspense books are now being categorized in in other hot areas of the fiction market like women’s contemporary fiction, general fiction, and young adult fiction, where they are driving growth. An example is Laura Dave’s recent bestseller, “The Last Thing He Told Me,” which is categorized as general fiction.

Top growth authors in the thriller category are a mix of established and new thriller authors. It is notable that three out of the four new thriller writers on the high-growth author list were women, since thriller and suspense is a category that has traditionally been dominated by male authors.

“The rising profile of women authors indicates that there may be a market for more female voices in this genre,” McLean said. “There are also good opportunities for reinvention in the category. After all, a down cycle is often the best time to invest in the next wave. There will always be a reader for the next great thriller.”