The best-selling book of the past decade in the United States was “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E.L. James, which sold 15.2 million copies from 2010 through 2019. In fact, the series holds the top three positions on the decade’s top-ten ranking list, with nearly 35 million print and e-book sales, according to global information company The NPD Group. Many of the recent decade’s top-selling books, including these leaders, were tied to movie adaptations, which is a testament to the marketing power Hollywood brings to book sales.
When comparing the top 10 adult books each year throughout the past decade, more non-fiction titles topped the NPD Bookscan charts in the second half of the decade than in the first half. In 2010, nearly 80 percent of the top-selling titles were fiction, and by 2019 that percentage dropped to 32 percent. “This consumer push for informational titles over fiction was reflected in larger non-fiction trends in the second half of the decade—such as the rise in cookbooks, self-help, and politics—which pushed more non-fiction titles into the top ten list,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst, NPD Bookscan.
Overall 6.5 billion print books were sold over the past decade, compared to just 1.8 billion e-books. “At the start of the decade, digital e-books were expected to decimate print book sales,” McLean said. “However, print books have remained surprisingly resilient. After a high point in 2013, e-books have continuously lost share to print books every year. Looking ahead, the growth in audiobooks is another trend expected to continue well into the next decade, as people shift some of their reading to listening on smart devices.”
Another effect of the advent of smartphones and tablets has been a downward trend in the average page count for leading titles over the past decade. “We ultimately consumed media much differently at the end of the decade than we did at the start,” McLean said. “More forms of media entertainment are now competing for our attention. As a result, the print books we’re reading are shorter, because there are more demands on consumers’ free time, as they stream more video and listen to more podcasts and audiobooks.”
The growth in poetry and self-help categories in the latter half of the decade also shortened the average page count. Leading poetry collections like “Milk and Honey”—along with popular self-help titles like “Girl, Wash Your Face” and “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”—are comparatively short. Each one coming in at under 250 pages.
Rank Title Author Publisher Year Unit Sales 1. Fifty Shades of Grey E. L. James Random House 2011 15.2 million 2. Fifty Shades Darker E. L. James Random House 2011 10.4 million 3. Fifty Shades Freed E. L. James Random House 2012 9.3 million 4. The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins Scholastic Books 2008 8.7 million 5. The Help Kathryn Stockett Penguin Group USA 2009 8.7 million 6. The Girl on The Train Paula Hawkins Penguin Group USA 2015 8.2 million 7. Gone Girl Gillian Flynn Random House 2012 8.1 million 8. The Fault in Our Stars John Green, Penguin Group 2012 8 million 9. The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson Random House 2008 7.9 million 10. Divergent Veronica Roth Harpercollins Publishers 2011 6.6 million Source: The NPD Group / NPD Bookscan, NPD PubTrack Digital, includes U.S. print book and e-book sales, 2010-2019.