Soaring Temperatures & Soaring Sales: paperback fiction & summer reading

Paperback novels are currently enjoying their summertime sales boost, fuelled by readers shopping for their latest beach read. More than 160 paperback novels sold more than 1,000 copies in the UK in the week ending 30th July 2022, and 17 of those occupy spots in the overall top 20.

Outside of Christmas, the biggest weeks in volume terms for paperback fiction tend to occur around weeks 30 and 31 in late July/early August, as the graph below of total sales of paperback novels by week, averaged between 2015 and 2019, shows. The data illustrates that paperback fiction sales (in green) outside of the Christmas period tend to rise and fall with the mercury (in grey) — they begin the year low, warm up during the spring, peak in the summer, and then steadily decline through the autumn.

In the summer months of July and August, then, who is buying paperback fiction? According to Nielsen BookData’s Books & Consumers demographic data for 2019 (the last “normal” year), pretty much the same people who buy paperback fiction throughout the year. The data reveals 62% of paperback fiction books purchased in July and August were bought by women, marginally higher than the full-year figure of 60%. There is only a marginal difference, too, when it comes to purchases by age range, with the 45-59 age range leapfrogging the 13-24 range to become the second-heaviest purchasers, behind the leading 60-84 range (22% of total sales).

Impulse purchasing of fiction paperbacks becomes slightly higher, too, accounting for 37% of sales in July and August in 2019 versus 35% for the full year. However, there was no difference when analysing sales by purchasers’ book reading frequency, with 79% of paperback fiction sales in July and August going to consumers that report reading daily or weekly — the same proportion as in the full year. It suggests that the summer paperback fiction spike isn’t driven by light readers looking for a summer read, but heavy readers doing so, and the same similarities (between July and August sales and full-year sales) can be seen in the adult fiction e-book sector, too.

Several narrative non-fiction categories also see paperback format sales enjoy small boosts in July and August, including History, Autobiography: The Arts and Autobiography: Sport, while categories including Road Atlases & Maps, General Folded Maps & Walking Guides, Travel & Holiday Guides and Phrasebooks also enjoy sales boosts in holiday season for understandable reasons.

Interestingly though, while the demographic profile of buyers of Travel Guides in July and August is evenly split at 49% male versus 51% female, men over-index in the Maps/Atlases category, accounting for 57% of purchases versus 43% for women. Well, you know what they say about men and their unwillingness to ask for directions.

Historic Paperback Fiction Bestsellers in July and August

2021: The Thursday Murder Club: 163,000 copies sold
2020: Girl, Woman, Other: 122,000 copies sold
2019: The Reckoning: 136,000 copies sold
2018: Origin: 236,000 copies sold
2017: The Couple Next Door: 143,000 copies sold

Note: UK temperature data based on rolling four-week average of weekly highs reported at Historic paperback fiction bestsellers in July and August based on sales in the weeks 27 to 36 inclusive, through the BookScan Total Consumer Market (TCM).