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Novels rule when it comes to e-book sales, children's books dominate print

8 months ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in People

Some people love their e-books. Others, like me, not so much. I'll read e-books, especially if I'm traveling or if the book is a thousand-page tome, but otherwise I like the tactile nature of a good book. I like the smell of the paper. I also don't like to have to think about charging an e-reader.

But as it turns out, e-book and physical book readers are a strikingly different lot. By looking at best-seller data on Amazon ($NASDAQ:AMZN) for both Kindle e-books and print books, a clear trend emerges.

The best-selling e-books on Amazon are all novels. Meanwhile, the majority of the best-selling print books on Amazon are children's books. Before getting into why this may be, first, a look at the data.

We averaged the sales rank for millions of printed books and Kindle e-books since 2016. We then averaged each book's category rank out of the top-100 sellers for each day and then weighted each one based on how many days is appeared in the top 100 in order to gain insight into not just books that may spike in terms of sales interest, but those that have sold well most consistently over time.

Kindle E-books: Novels win

Virtually all of the 10 best-selling books on the Kindle store since 2016 have been novels. Of the 10 books, 4 are Harry Potter titles. Other notables include Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale which likely saw a sales lift because of the widely popular Hulu series based on the book. Other standouts include Mark T. Sullivan's historical fiction chartbuster Beneath a Scarlet Sky and Emily Bleeker's romance When I'm Gone.

But let's give credit to Harry Potter. The book that started it all, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, averaged a sales rank of 15.15 for 616 days. That's a lot of e-books sold. Meanwhile, other Harry Potter followup novels took other spots for hundreds of days in the past few years.


Category Rank (Average)

Days Ranked

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone



Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets



The Handmaid's Tale



Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel



Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban



When I'm Gone: A Novel



My Sister's Grave (The Tracy Crosswhite Series Book 1)



Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix



I Am Watching You



Before We Were Yours: A Novel



[Dataset here for subscribers]

Print books: Children rule

For 612 days since 2016, Giraffes Can't Dance averaged a sales rank of 30.03 out of 100. This "tale of gentle inspiration for every child with dreams of greatness" by Giles Andreae was first published in 1999, but it continues to fly off of Amazon warehouse shelves. In second place with an average sales rank of just 22.07 over 601 days (arguably even better results than those of Giraffes Can't Dance) is First 100 Words, an early learning "board book" that aims to teach young learners their first words in English.

Other top-10 real-book sellers include children's classics like Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. A perennial best-seller for tabletop gaming nerds, the Dungeon's & Dragons Player's Handbook rounded out the top-10 physical book best-seller list with an average 59.19 sales rank over 523 days.


Category Rank (Average)

Days Ranked

Giraffes Can't Dance



First 100 Words



The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts



The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book)



Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book



The Very Hungry Caterpillar



Milk and Honey



How to Win Friends & Influence People



The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom



Player's Handbook (Dungeons & Dragons)



[Dataset here for subscribers]

Long live print!

The pattern that emerges from this data pull shows that while e-book readers are great for a long fantasy or romance novel, nothing can replace the real-word amazement that a classic lift-the-flap or large-format book provides, whether it be for children's learning or a specialized nerdy pursuit.

If this trend tells us anything about the future, it's that there's room for both e-books and print books. It just depends on the use case and age of the reader.

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Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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