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Retail Industry Updates

Consumers Are on an Adult Fiction Reading Kick


Consumers are reading more adult fiction print books than they have in eight years.

In the first quarter of this year, the adult fiction category for print books in the U.S. posted its highest first-quarter sales since 2013, according to market researcher The NPD Group. Adult fiction book sales in January through March reached 39 million units, growing 35% compared to the first quarter last year.

“The adult fiction titles that made the biggest gains in the first quarter were heavily amplified by screen and social media discovery,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for NPD. “With consumers still spending a lot of time at home, readers are discovering their next reads through what they are watching on TV and reading about online, rather than through browsing the shelves at their local bookstores, as they once did.”

Growth in Japanese comics and graphic novels, known as “manga,” was supported by the growing popularity of Japanese animated content, or “anime,” on Netflix and other subscription video on-demand (SVOD) services, as well as through active sharing in specialty fan communities online, according to NPD. Manga print book sales in the U.S. increased by 3.6 million units, year over year, in the first quarter. The first volume of “Chainsaw Man,” by Tatsuki Fujimoto (Viz Media), was the biggest seller in the category.

Contemporary women’s fiction book sales in the first quarter increased by 1.2 million units, year over year, led by Kristen Hannah’s front-list title, “The Four Winds.” Hannah’s backlist title, “Firefly Lane,” also recorded strong sales, following its Netflix-adaption premiere in February. The romance fiction category also rose by 1.2 million units, led by Julia Quinn’s “Bridgerton” series, following its Netflix-adaption TV series debut in December 2020.

“Original series based on books and commissioned by the major streaming platforms now have the power to create bestsellers, similar to the way a box-office movie would have in the past,” McLean said. “We are reaching an inflection point in the influence of these marquee projects to sell books, at least on the adult side of the market.”

Book titles featured in BookTok videos, a hashtag used to share book-recommendation videos on the TikTok social media platform, have recently enjoyed an appreciable increase in sales, NPD found. BookTok videos were viewed more than 7.3 billion times, as of April 2021. Backlist titles like “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara and “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller both received sales boosts in the first quarter. In fact, “The Song of Achilles” sold 10 times the number of units in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same time period last year.

“While many BookTok videos are pushing young-adult titles onto bestseller lists, the phenomenon has also carried over into adult fiction,” McLean said.