The record-breaking year that was 2021

Both the UK and Irish print book markets experienced their highest value sales on record in 2021, with £1.82bn and €165.9m, respectively, spent on books across the two countries. While adult fiction posted the strongest growth of the broad sectors, as consumers continued to look for escapism and comfort reads amid the ongoing pandemic, children’s books reached lifetime highs in both markets. Similar books led fiction sales in either market, with Richard Osman, Matt Haig and Delia Owens all within the top ten titles of the year for both the UK and Ireland, but Irish authors (Sally Rooney and Emer McLysaght & Sarah Breen) move to the top of the fiction chart for the latter. Two non-fiction books appear in both top tens (‘The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse’ and ‘Guinness World Records 2022’), while David Walliams topped the children’s chart in the UK and Jeff Kinney did so in Ireland.

Fiction managed nearly universal category growth, with only horror falling short for both the UK and Irish fiction markets and crime, romance, historical and graphic novels all achieving either record or nearly record sales in 2021. Children’s saw similarly varied growth, with only educational books lagging and lifetime peaks for children’s non-fiction and picture books, as well as strong growth for fiction (particularly young adult fiction, which has reversed its downward trajectory from pre-2020 with a helping hand from TikTok). Non-fiction was more of a mix in 2021, but books related to personal development and mind, body & spirit had their highest year yet in both countries, while celeb memoirs, history and the world/ideas/culture also saw growth.

To sum up, a lot grew in 2021. Just like a lot grew in 2020. But digging through all those categories, various themes become apparent, some of which continue trends from the before times and others brought to the fore since 2020. Books related to self-help and positive development for both children and adults keep reaching new peaks, while books that aid in understanding the world around us, whether the natural world or human society, reverberate across many different corners of the market. At-home activities continue to be important, which fortunately includes leisure reading, as evidenced by the strong performance of fiction and YA. Overall, the year’s bestsellers show book buyers seeking out comfort, laughter, escapism, familiarity and maybe a sense of community, given the continued impact of social media in bringing in new authors with existing platforms and creating conversations around new and old books. The start of 2022 is unfortunately looking a lot like 2021, with a new variant, a rush to vaccinate and widespread uncertainty. But books do seem to have escaped the pandemic fatigue: people are still buying, still reading, still appreciating a good book.

Data extracted from the BookScan UK Total Consumer Market (TCM) and Irish Consumer Market (ICM) to 1 January 2022. For more information, please contact