NPD Projects US Print Book Unit Sales 17 Percent Above 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

In today’s release (December 13, 2021) of its United States print books weekly media report for the week ending December 4, Kristen McLean, executive director and industry analyst with NPD Books and Entertainment, shows the American publishing industry pressing into the holiday run with the strength that has distinguished it and several other world book markets in the second year of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

McLean writes, “2021 and 2020 are converging as we reach the end of the year.

“This past week was essentially flat” in comparison to the same week in 2020, she reports, “crossing the 25-million-unit mark about a week earlier than the seasonal norms set in 2019 and 2018, and two weeks earlier than 2017.

“The market finished the week up 10 percent on a year-to-date volume of 726 million units, which is 67 million units ahead of 2020, and 118 million units ahead of 2019.

“If we finish the year as we project at 8 percent higher, year-over-year, on a unit basis, that will be 17 percent higher than 2019, a finish none of us would have foreseen on January 1, 2020.”

And this time, McLean has included what NPD Group calls its “Total Market Retail Thermometer” (from its “Retail Center of Excellence” material), to get a look at the sales revenue performance of all other non-book retail that NPD tracks as a percentage of 2019 performance.

“2021 has already exceeded 2019 by 4 percent,” McLean announces, “with four more holiday weeks to go.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The headline of the OP caught PG’s attention because he suspected 2019 was a typo.

PG will note that NPD’s data “covers approximately 85 percent of trade print books sold in the U.S.” so there is apparently no ebook sales data included.

Per Booksliced, in 2020, the share of market in ebooks looks this way:

Amazon 81%
Nook 9%
Apple Books 7%
Kobo 3%

PG hadn’t heard of Booksliced until he did a quick search for ebook market share. If anyone can locate additional data on ebook market share, feel free to share in the comments.

4 thoughts on “NPD Projects US Print Book Unit Sales 17 Percent Above 2019”

  1. What a peculiar response! The linked piece is entirely clear that it is about paper book unit sales. This is right there in the headline. There is no need to ponder if it is actually about both print and ebook sales, finally concluding that apparently it is not. This is like reading a study of how many households have pet dogs and concluding that apparently it is not about how many households have either dogs or cats.

    Then we get done data about market share of ebook sales. This is yet further removed from the original article. It is like following up on that pet dog study by throwing out numbers for how many cats an average cat household has.

    We’re not done! Follow the link for that data and we learn that some guy just made it up. He pretty much admits this. He got data from someone else. He didn’t like the numbers. So here are his, while admitting that it is based on “anedoctal information” and that he doesn’t have any data to support. To top it off, he literally says not to quote him, as was in fact done here.

    What is going on? My guess is that this is zealous advocacy: good when representing a client, but bad when one would expect dispassionate analysis. The original article presents data favorable to traditional publishers. This is contrary to the approved narrative, so hand-waving deflection follows. Surely it would have been simpler to not link to the original piece in the first place.

  2. I’m not sure what to make of this report. So if anyone knowledgeable can explain it …

    Traditionally the industry figures report sales in cash rather than unit terms and the cash figures I’ve seen do not suggest and such growth (actually showing a reduction when adjusted for inflation). Maybe these are out of date? Additionally, as the big publishers ship books on consignment they presumably have no idea what their unit sales are until months later when all the returns are in. I guess that unit sales could come from Bookscan but how complete is their coverage?

  3. It’s NPD.
    Reliability dubious.

    Of note:

    “BookScan, Pubtrack Digital, PubTrack Higher Education, PubTrack Christian, Books & Consumers, PubEasy and PubNet belong to NPD since January 2017. NPD has acquired these services from Nielsen’s U.S. market information and research services for the book industry. In the U.S. these services are now part of NPD Book, a new U.S. practice area. Nielsen still operate their book services outside of the U.S., including BookScan in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Mexico.”

    In the video game world, their sales tracking was so dubious that a random guy on the internet started a competitive crowd sourced report (VGCartz) that has its own attackers but is generally perceived to be more accurate globally than NPD. The gaming media doesn’t bother to quote them anymore since their retail numbers are irrelevant in a market where digital sales in walled gardens dominate.

    In books, given the combination of online pbook sales, new and used, ebooks, and audio, their Bookscan methodology is pretty much useless. For all we know, their numbers merely reflect new release sales at B&M, like the NYT “bestseller” list. “Accurate” enough within their limited sphere but irrelevant in the broader market beyond their ken. 😉

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