A thriller published in January is the bestselling domestic book across all categories for the first half of 2021 according to newly released sales data from BookNet Canada. The Push, a debut novel from former book publicist Ashley Audrain, nabbed the top spot on BookNet’s survey for the first six months of the year. Audrain’s novel was published by Viking. Kate Quinn’s historical novel The Rose Queen, published by HarperCollins imprint William Morrow, was the bestselling fiction title for the period; James Clear’s Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, published by Avery, led sales in adult nonfiction.
Overall, the BookNet data indicates that while print sales have not rebounded to where they were in the first half of 2019, they have significantly recovered from the COVID-19 slump in the early part of 2020. There was an increase in sales of close to 1.5 million units year over year, to 22,502,564 in the first half of 2021. That’s up from 20,919,449 in the same period in 2020. Total sales in dollars for the period were $463,780,134.
By category, juvenile/young-adult was the industry leader, accounting for 42% of all sales in the Canadian market for the first six months of 2021. That’s an increase of one percentage point from 2020. Adult nonfiction came in second place, with 30% of sales, followed by adult fiction with 27%.
Backlist titles continued to dominate the market, accounting for 83% of all sales in the survey period.
The increase in sales volume occurred despite fewer books being published in 2021; this is a holdover from a similar trend in 2020, and likely a result of cutbacks and scheduling changes caused by the pandemic. “It appears that the continued nature of the retail, and publishing, landscapes continues to have an impact on publishing schedules,” writes BookNet.
Similar trends are evident in the U.S., according to industry magazine Publishers Weekly. South of the 49th parallel, adult fiction sales were strong in the first half of 2021, with the category seeing a jump of 30.7% in units sold. The top seller was The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, published by St. Martin’s Press.
But PW notes that the bump in U.S. fiction sales was driven by a massive increase in sales for adult graphic novels, which leapt 178.5% (16.2 million units) in sales, to make up approximately 20% of all adult fiction trade sales for the first half of 2021. This was followed by a 48.8% jump in sales for YA fiction.
Total year-over-year sales were up by 18.5% in 2021 versus the same period in 2020. PW concludes, “Unit sales throughout the first half of 2021 have shown continuous weekly increases compared to 2020, but sales gains have become smaller. … Some publishers have expressed concern over how the balance of 2021 will play out, as reading and book buying face more competition from forms of entertainment that were unavailable during COVID lockdowns.”