Scribd Year in Review: Reading trends in 2021

Scribd Year in Review: Reading trends in 2021

In For the Love of Reading, Reading Trends, Scribd News by Sarah Sung

Scribd Year in Review: Reading trends in 2021

As 2021 draws to a close, we can all probably agree it went by about twice as fast as 2020. Even at that dizzying speed, we have some interesting learnings from our Scribd community about all things books in 2021. From trends around mysteries, thrillers, and crimes to those focused on self-improvement and personal growth, we’re discovering interesting details about reading trends and popular books each month, and now we turn to the full year.

Here, we dive into social media’s impact on book trends and why the book-to-screen movement is on fire. Plus, we take a look at where people are reading most and what they’re reading in 2021.

#BookTok rules

Social media is changing the world; so it makes sense that it would play a role in the ways many of us read. With TikTok, we saw an uptick of popular books and genres from young adult to classics.

Scribd Year in Review: Reading trends in 2021
Generally, quarter-over-quarter growth held steady at 50% for #BookTok-promoted books throughout 2021. What’s most notable is following an -18% decline in reading before any BookTok attention, books highlighted in TikTok saw an average 75% spike after promotion on that platform. Notably It Ends With Us enjoyed a 70% jump thanks to BookTok, going from -17% before promotion to 53% to 73% to 141% quarter-over-quarter, and Song of Achilles jumped 68% from 1% to 69% then continued to grow at 59% and 31%. Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was especially interesting because it went from a -24% decline in Q3 2020 to 48% growth in Q4 — that’s a 72% jump in just one quarter — then it held relatively steady growth at 46% in Q1 2021 and 41% in Q2 .

Reading before watching

Movies and streaming services like Netflix pretty much saved us during the pandemic. Binge-watching definitely became a thing, and binge-reading wasn’t far behind. In fact, one of our top performing Editorial lists has always been Book-to-Screen Adaptations, and we saw a rise in book popularity in-line with the launch of a Netflix series or movie. For example, Bridgerton, Shadow and Bone, The Queen’s Gambit, and Nomadland were all books on Scribd that signaled correlation with the movie version.

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For series like Bridgerton and Shadow and Bone, we saw sharp spikes around release date (December 25, 2020 and April 23, 2021, respectively) along with a sharp decline for the first book, followed by spikes at a slightly lower but still high level for the remaining books in the series. 

Specifically, read starts for the first book in the Bridgerton series, The Duke and I, increased by an impressive 1,672.9%. With these growth rates, it points to the relative obscurity of the book before Netflix spotlighted it. Shadow and Bone, which was more established when Netflix debuted the series, still enjoyed a lift with read starts increasing by 267%. Romance and young adult genres tend to be quick reads, so it makes sense that readers would consume these books swiftly and frequently.


Scribd Year in Review: Reading trends in 2021

Search and you will find

Upon looking at what users were searching, we learned about amigurumi, which is the art of crocheting small, stuffed animals. This seemingly esoteric Japanese crafting trend skyrocketed 440% to the top search terms in 2021 after being buried deep in the search results back in 2019.

Similarly, we’ve seen audiobooks take off in recent years as it provides a convenient way to multitask and still fit in a great read. Our search results show audiobooks weren’t on the search radar in 2019 but rocketed to the top in 2021. In the past year alone, from 2020 to 2021, searches that included the term “audiobook” grew by 22%. While that’s impressive, searches from 2019 compared to 2021 grew by a whopping 515%.


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Searching for an audiobook is one thing, but people listened, too. In fact, the average Scribd user spent 42 hours listening to audiobooks so far in 2021. That’s 32% longer than in 2020 with 18% more readers starting an audiobook this year.

Fun Fact: Consistently top search terms were “piano” and “guitar,” which were always in the top 10 search terms from year to year. Whether it’s songbooks and sheet music or instructional books, it shows our users lean on culture and music in their free time.

What states are reading the most?

Based on total read time per person, here’s how people in each state are reading. Fun fact: Alaska ranked highest in ebook reading (even though it was 18th overall).


Scribd Year in Review: Reading trends in 2021

What genres are states reading?

These states lead the country in reading for each of the following categories:


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Reading trends and top books of 2021 

Looking at the top books per year, 2021 stood out for leaning heavily into fiction — only two of the top-ranked books were nonfiction. By comparison, six of the top 10 books of 2019 were nonfiction. (Think: memoirs, personal growth and self improvement, and biology). 

Here are the top 10 books of 2021:

This book flies in the face of so much conventional self-help wisdom, it’s hard not to label the book as anti-self-help. Yet, that label undermines how pragmatic the book actually is. In the overcrowded and over-clichéd self-help genre, this is a book well worth whatever f*cks you can muster.

Start Listening

“Don’t take my emotional mess as a sign, ‘oh, this is really bad, don’t read it,’ because it’s frickin’ amazing,” says Pauline (@thebooksiveloved) as she tries not to cry on TikTok, in one of the most-viewed videos about “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.” Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel about an aging Old Hollywood actress finally telling her whole life’s story to an unknown journalist is highly emotional. Told in a memoiristic style, you will leave convinced that Evelyn Hugo is a real person. (Just to reiterate: She’s not.)

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Reese Witherspoon chose this mystery as her May book club pick. Laura Dave’s novel “gives new meaning to the phrase ‘you can never judge a book (OR suspicious husband) by its cover’ with her gripping tale of love, deception, and disappearance. If the thrilling start doesn’t hook you — a missing husband, a duffel bag of cash, a cryptic note and teenage stepdaughter drama — wait till you find out how it ends. Warning: there’s so many secrets that you may start to question if you can even trust yourself,” Witherspoon wrote on Instagram. Julia Roberts is set to star in the Apple TV+ adaptation.

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Thanks to a deal with a demon, Addie LaRue’s life will never end. The devil’s in the details, however, resulting in a curse that she will be forgotten by everyone she meets. After 300 years of living without making her mark on the world, Addie finally meets a young man who remembers her name. This fantasy made just about everyone’s best books of the year list in 2020, and it’s narrated by the award-winning Julia Whelan (“Gone Girl,” “Educated”).

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They planned a picture-perfect destination wedding, but stormy weather isn’t the only thing ruining a celebrity couple’s big day in this summer thriller. Reese Witherspoon picked “The Guest List” as one of her June/July book club selections in 2020, and its popularity hasn’t waned.. Witherspoon says, “Get ready for so many twists and turns as you try to figure out the who, what and when of this mystery. It reminds me of some of my favorite mysteries from Agatha Christie.”

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Dr. Harari’s seminal work merges science with history to give a thorough saga of the human species. Beginning with the appearance of modern cognition, Harari traces the evolution of humanity to challenge commonly held beliefs about our biology, our history, and ourselves.

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Meet Kristin Hannah’s latest heroine: Elsa Wolcott, a woman bravely facing increasingly harsh conditions during the Depression and Dust Bowl. Hannah told TODAY that Elsa is her “favorite character of all time,” and went on to say that “I really think that the message of ‘The Four Winds’ today, in this moment, is a reminder of the strength of the human spirit and our ability to survive.”

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This novel has consistently topped the charts since its release in 2016. In many ways, it seems like a stereotypical sexy romance novel: The protagonist is named Lily Bloom, and she’s stuck choosing between a hot doctor named Ryle and her first love, Atlas (yes, you read every name correctly). But this romance novel shines above the rest for its very real and poignant portrayal of cycles of abuse.

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Despite the title, this uplifting charmer from “A Man Called Ove” author Fredrik Backman is sure to boost your spirits and restore your belief in the power of community. Involving a bank robber, hostage situation, and a police investigation, this is a surprisingly light read that will keep you smiling, trust us. 

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Set in post-WWII Europe, “The Alice Network” brings together two women from different generations and backgrounds. With espionage, scandal, redemption, and rage-provoking examples of at least five ‘isms,’ the story has a bingability score equivalent to “Game of Thrones: Season One.” In other words, get ready to stay up all night reading and be prepared to feel all the feelings.

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Methodology

This report is based on proprietary data gathered and analyzed by Scribd’s strategy and analytics team, examining reading and user statistics from January through October 2021. 

The statistics included are drawn from a sample set of more than 100 million hours consumed through our total marketplace of over 160M+ pieces of content and more than 800 million readers.

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About the Author: Sarah Sung

Sarah is the Editorial Director at Scribd who obsesses over content strategy and brand building, and has written lifestyle content for AFAR, San Francisco Chronicle, and Under Armour. In her spare time she teaches indoor cycling and consumes podcasts, audiobooks, and ebooks at all times of the day and night. Traveling and dining out are always high on her to-do list

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