For years we have been hearing that print is dead. Newspapers are shuttering around the country, and book publishers are consolidating into alarming conglomerates. We have been told that there is just no money in the industry anymore. This is disheartening for readers and writers alike, who prefer a physical book to a digital copy. However, some good news has emerged when looking at the stats for book buying in 2021, print sales are up and more people are buying physical copies of their favorite books.
The Pandemic May Have Helped The Increase In Physical Book Sales
Image by Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash
According to Publisher’s Weekly, the print book sales rose 8.9% in 2021, over a previous increase of 8.2% in 2020. There are some obvious explanations for the sudden jump in 2021 for physical book sales. Most of the world has been in quarantine of one kind or another for a solid two years. And with quarantine came endless video conferences that required everyone to spend most of their days staring at screens.
Between working on a computer all day and binging the latest show on your television all night, people were getting burnt out from too much screen time. So perhaps it is a natural progression for people to turn to books as another form of entertainment. And since there is usually an option to read a physical print book over an ebook, it would make sense for people to choose print over digital.
Young Adult Books Had The Largest Increase In Sales
Victories Greater Than Death | Image via Tor Teen
In the same article from Publisher’s Weekly, they say that young adult fiction saw the largest increase in print book sales. “With unit sales jumping 30.7%, while adult fiction sales rose 25.5%. Sales in the juvenile fiction category increased 9.6%.” There are many likely reasons for this increase. The most obvious reason is that parents tend to prefer to give their kids physical copies of books to read. Many parents already have concerns about the amount of time their children spend looking at screens. And with the pandemic forcing young people into online schooling, screen burnout is just as real among kids as it is with adults.
We must also take into account the fact that YA is also popular with many adults. There are many excellent genre books that often get lumped into the YA category (usually when they are written by women). Because of this, YA is not limited to kids or teens – it is a genre that is often read by all age groups.
Additionally, Publisher’s Weekly credits BookTok (people who review/talk about books on the app TikTok) with generating publicity for many of the bestselling YA titles. They claim that “Gains in the young adult category were helped by several titles that benefitted from attention drummed up by BookTok… They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, released in December 2018, was the #1 title in the category, selling nearly 685,000 copies.”
Graphic Novels Also See A Huge Increase In Print Sales
The past couple of years have been excellent for genre fiction. Sci-fi and fantasy are dominating bestseller lists and television shows alike. Perhaps in conjunction with the dominance of genre fiction, it is graphic novels that saw the biggest increase in print sales in 2021.
“Within adult fiction, the graphic novel genre had the biggest increase, with units jumping 109.3%, followed by fantasy, which saw sales rise 45.3%. The top seller in the category was the backlist title The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which sold about 955,000 copies.”
Much like YA fiction, graphic novels are another type of book that can be read by all ages. The definition of graphic novel can be pretty broad – typically when faced with the term people think about comic books like Watchmen. However, in recent years several well-known authors have dabbled in the graphic novel realm and brought their fans with them. A good example of this would be N.K. Jemisin writing Far Sector, or Roxane Gay turning her short story The Sacrifice of Darkness into a graphic novel. This means that more people than ever before are discovering graphic novels. And there is a certain tactile feeling that comes from paging through a physical graphic novel or comic book. That is not the same when you read it digitally.
Variety of Graphic Novels Available Boost The Category To The Top
Artwork from “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” | Image via the Author’s Website
The title mentioned in the article as the top seller in graphic novels for 2021 is an indie title The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. This book actually doesn’t fit into any of the aforementioned subgenres of graphic novel. But what it does show us is how readers turned to more hopeful texts after a long and tumultuous year. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is a simple story, with extremely basic artwork and little plot. Rather, it is a meditation on self and a reflection on the many aspects that make up our identities. It is an uplifting little story, quick to read, and one that leaves you feeling better about the world.
Undoubtedly, the huge variety of graphic novels to choose from helped to launch this genre to the top of the list for 2021 print book sales. Of course, here at Comic Years we also recommend delving into graphic novels. Check out our list of the most important graphic novels of the decade for reading inspiration.
All in all, this is great news for print fans as the physical book sales increase from 2021 continues to be an upward trend. So never fear bibliophiles, print is alive and well as we enter 2022.
(Featured Image by Eugenio Mazzone via Unsplash)
Emily O’Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.