An essential quality of literature is genre—genres “[come] with certain built-in codes, values, and expectations” and “[help] the author communicate with the audience”. From a somewhat more market-oriented perspective, we “buy certain books because we have enjoyed similar stories in the past.” But what genres do the best? What books are people buying most?
There’s a general consensus on which genres take the top five spots on the best-selling list, though a few places put the same genres in a slightly different order. These genres are:
- Romance and erotica
- Science fiction and fantasy
- Crime and mystery
However, the picture is more complicated than that.
Ebook sales skew the numbers in favor of certain genres
The romance genre overall might bring in 1.44 billion dollars a year as of 2014, but most of those sales come from indie publishers and ebook sales. And by indie publishers and ebook sellers, I mean Amazon.
The chart above, from early 2017, breaks down the market into the different major English-speaking countries and the biggest retailers. In the US, there are 487.3 million ebooks sold every year. For some perspective, 687.2 million print books were sold in 2017.
The data for ebook sales are actually pretty mysterious—Amazon controls huge portions of the ebook market, clearly, but it’s hard to know exactly how many books are sold. Author Earnings, the site the chart is from, was actually started by an anonymous self-published author to provide some insight into this untrackable section of the market. Until the team behind Author Earnings launched BookStat in 2018, Author Earnings was the best resource for self-published ebook sales data. Only Amazon has full access to their data, and they’re not known for their transparent business practices.
What else is selling?
Just looking at the top five genres doesn’t give a perfect picture of the market, either. “Instagram” poetry is growing, with sensations like Rupi Kaur popularizing poetry that isn’t high-brow and selling millions of copies. Among traditional publishers, adult nonfiction and children’s/YA (young adult) are the two markets that have grown the most since 2013. And if you look at traditional publishers’ sales, the top five selling genres list probably looks different.
So, I set out to write a blog post about the top five selling genres on the market. I ended up reading over ten articles about the current print and ebook markets. As long as most of Amazon’s ebook data remains mostly untrackable, understanding the market isn’t really simple.