May 2020 Book Market Update: Best Book Genres & More

Since the pandemic and numerous shutdowns worldwide, we started paying close attention to the book market. Although there can be lots to worry about, we want you to know that digital books are in demand. Especially for those in traditional book publishing, it’s a smoother transition into digital formats.    

We’ve been reporting the trends and data publicly on our blog since March 2020. Then, we shared how authors and publishers selling digital books via PublishDrive saw growth by at least 20% across markets and stores. In April 2020, we reported another 23% growth. Demand is high right now.

In our May 2020 report, we go over the usual numbers with an overview of international digital book sales plus popular book genres. Be sure to come back to our blog (or subscribe to our monthly newsletter) because we’ll be updating this study every 20th of the month.

All in all, we hope you find the newest developments insightful and make the best-informed decisions in your publishing endeavors.



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Digital book sales continue to rise.

During this shutdown, people want more at-home entertainment, prioritizing digital means to get them. Things like movie-streaming services, video games, and of course books are seeing a significant boom. This trend was dominant in March and April, and in May the trend continues.

Since the outbreak, we’ve experienced a 20% growth rate in March and 23% in April. With the world opening back up, that rate has slightly flattened in May 2020. However, when looking at May 2020 book sales compared to May of last year, book sales have increased by 60% on PublishDrive.

Interestingly, the growth is significantly higher when compared to last year than last month. Another note: in 2019 we recorded a 0.8% growth rate. In 2020, the growth from just April to May was 6%!

These growing sales numbers are super beneficial for PublishDrive indies who keep 100% royalties. Since we don’t take any commission, publishers get the same royalties as selling directly to stores. All this growth is 100% theirs.

As the COVID-19 curve flattens in more places, more countries are opening up from lockdowns.  We will continue paying attention to see what and how trends may change in June. Based on a mid-month report, so far, book sales are still looking strong in June compared to last year -- we estimate a 50% growth.

Non-fiction, fantasy, science-fiction and thriller genres are doing great.

In May 2020, popular genres included fiction, especially fantasy books, science fiction, thriller, and crime books. Interestingly, romance and erotica saw a slight decrease in April, but made it back to the top in May. Nonfiction self-help titles maintained solid performance as well, especially regarding education, family & relationships, computers, social science, health & fitness, and even body, mind, & spirit..

In May, we saw a shift in consumer behavior with the rise of educational content, sci fi, and thriller book categories.


We looked at PublishDrive’s bestseller lists of book genres and countries with the highest growth rates from stores and pulled this table for your viewing. New categories appearing as top categories or top countries are in italic. Here were the most interesting findings:

Amazon’s bestselling books were in fantasy, romance, and thriller the most. There was also a significant increase in non-fiction like body, mind & spirit. Amazon’s traditional markets like the UK and US experienced growth. There was notable growth in South Africa, in Asia such as Japan, and in Latin America like Chile.

Apple saw growth in romance and fantasy, and saw a significant boost in thriller. Non-fiction titles skyrocketed as well, especially business, historical, social science, health & fitness, and family & relationships. Latin America such as Brazil or Chile and Asia such as Japan had growth.

Barnes & Noble saw growth in romance, thriller, erotica, and fantasy. Actually, most non-fiction genres were popular. (Note: Barnes & Noble only represents stores in the US.)

Bookmate saw growth in romance and erotica. Its non-fiction titles saw growth, like foreign language study and health & fitness. India, Russia, UK, and Latin America like Chile and Mexico saw the most growth in sales.

Dreame focuses on the US and Singapore market. Mystery, thriller, romance, sci fi, and fantasy had remarkable growth.

Google Play Books saw growth mostly in romance, science fiction, foreign language study, health  & fitness, and body, mind & spirit. We saw these growth hikes in many countries, particularly: UK, US, Turkey, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Russia, and South Africa.

With Kobo, we’ve seen an increase in both fiction and nonfiction. Thriller, literary, erotica, health & fitness, self-help, and body, mind & spirit all saw boosts. Most of this growth came from English speaking countries, plus Italy and the Philippines.

Odilo focused on the Spanish library markets, so it’s not surprising that their biggest growth came from Latin America, especially Chile and Colombia. Genres like computers, business, and education were popular.

Scribd did especially well with non-fiction titles like health & fitness, body, mind & spirit, and medical. It’s interesting to see literary fiction or nonfiction genres like poetry and literary criticism growing. Most of the sales came from India, South Africa, Turkey, and Latin American markets like Brazil, Chile and Mexico.

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The US market grew, but international book sales are growing exponentially.

Along with a dominant presence in the US market, publishers get a huge international reach with PublishDrive. Right now, English-language books are in global demand. Sales from the US grew by 11% in April, then another 4% in May.

When we look at its ratio from the overall sales, it shrunk from 35% in March to 32% in April, then stayed consistent at 31.6% in May. This shows the impact of rapid growth from international markets.

See the chart below for the top 20 bestselling countries and their growth rates from April to May 2020, compared to last year in the same period (May 2019).

The US and UK are the top countries based on sales value, and sales are increasing  month by month. Other countries also stand out: New Zealand, Belgium, Netherlands, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Russia, and South Africa. As countries reacted to COVID-19 with different lockdown periods and measurements, we’ve seen new markets for English-language content pop up. If you are interested in a more detailed country analysis, download the free report regarding here based on April 2020’s book sales data.

Book royalties come from different sources today, not just from selling one copy to a consumer. Typically, these sources can be categorized:

  • Retail: Major outlets that reach global readers with the usual one copy purchase business model. E.g. Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google Play Books, and Kobo.
  • Subscription services: Usually applications or stores that provide unlimited access to books in exchange for a monthly subscription fee. E.g. Scribd, Bookmate, and Dreame.
  • Digital library providers: Book borrowing for not just individuals, but institutions like public libraries, schools, universities, or corporate libraries. E.g. OverDrive, Bibliotheca, Mackin, and Odilo.
  • Regional stores: Outlets that cover a specific region that serves the local community. E.g. Tolion, Chinese stores, Hungarian outlets, and German network.


With book sales, many think of selling ONLY on Amazon. Although Amazon is great, there’s an entire mass of readers you can find elsewhere with other stores and business models.

58.48% of PublishDrive’s book sales come from retail (Amazon included). The other 41.52% comes from subscription business models (33.81%), libraries (2.43%), and regional stores (4.9%). Reader experience has shifted in the last couple of years.

Since March 2020, more people have been actively using subscription services. With the flattening period, retail sales growth started to dominate more than subscription or library services (which makes sense).

We’ve also seen trends in ratios according to different business models (see the chart below comparing the data to last year’s). Regional stores grew significantly by 136%, telling us that people looked to local stores for digital books first.

Subscription models also increased by another 51% compared to May 2019. Many of them cover different products: books, audiobooks, music, or even movies.

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Compared to May 2019, the countries where subscription services seem to be catching up the most are: Australia, Belgium, Chile, Denmark, France, India, New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, and the US. For example, Scribd just ran a promotional campaign where they extended its free trial period allowing more readers to join without any financial restrictions.

Retailers grew by 65% compared to last year and another 4% compared to April’s sales data. This is above the usual trend based on last year’s data. The growth was dominant in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Spain, US, and South Africa.

When looking at the biggest growth numbers behind some of the stores, we found that the biggest winners were stores with mobile/tablet device-related apps or subscription services/libraries focusing on international markets. See the chart below.

Amazon, Google, Bookmate, and Dreame are growing full speed ahead since April, hitting over 25% in May. Also, Barnes & Noble is catching up with its 11% monthly growth rate.

Google is unique in the ebook market as their reading app and store are preinstalled on a large amount of devices worldwide. Watch our video about how to sell more books on Google Play Books here. So whoever has an Android can access different types of books easily with their preinstalled apps. The outstanding growth is understandable during this period with the plethora of device type and usage out there.

So how’s the book market doing? Very well when it comes to digital.

We hope you found this insightful. Remember to come back on a monthly basis to see what’s happening in the book market.

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If you’d like to read more country highlights from our April 2020 report, go here.