These Were the Most Popular Books of the Decade

With the 2010s in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look back and take stock of the past 10 years, in movies, TV, music, and more. And when it comes to books, one author ruled the decade: E.L. James. The Fifty Shades of Grey author claimed the top three spots on NPD Bookscan’s list of the best-selling books of the 2010s. 

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ sold more than 15 million copies 

Fifty Shades books
Copies of books by by E. L. James | SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages

When Fifty Shades of Grey was published in 2011, few would have predicted that an erotic romance novel that started out as Twilight fan fiction would go on to become the best-seller of the decade. 

By the end of 2019, James’ book had sold 15.2 million copies in print and ebook form in the United States. Its two sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, were close behind, selling 10.4 and 9.3 million copies, respectively, for total sales of nearly 35 million copies. 

The best-selling books of the 2010s 

The decade’s top-selling books were all novels, noted NPD Bookscan, and all were eventually turned into high-profile films, helping to boost sales even further. The 2015 Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation starring Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele, a college student who begins a sadomasochistic relationship with billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), made more than $569 million at the worldwide box office. Young adult books were also popular, with authors like John Green, Suzanne Collins, and Veronica Roth making the list. 

Here’s the complete list of the decade’s best-sellers: 

  1. Fifty Shades of Grey by  E. L. James: 15.2 million
  2. Fifty Shades Darker by  E. L. James: 10.4 million
  3. Fifty Shades Freed by  E. L. James: 9.3 million
  4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: 8.7 million
  5. The Help by Kathryn Stockett: 8.7 million
  6. The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins: 8.2 million
  7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: 8.1 million
  8. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:  8 million
  9. The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson: 7.9 million
  10. Divergent by Veronica Roth: 6.6 million

More than 6.5 billion print books were sold in the past decade 

copies of A Higher Loyalty for sale
Copies of A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership for sale at a Barnes & Noble | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Overall, Americans purchased more than 6.5 billion print books between 2010 and 2019, according to NPD Bookscan’s figures. While some predicted that the growing popularity of ebooks would severely cut into print book sales, that ended up not being the case. Americans bought 1.8 billion ebooks in the same period, leaving print books comfortably ahead. 

“After a high point in 2013, e-books have continuously lost share to print books every year,” Kristen McLean, NPD Bookscan’s books industry analyst, said in a statement. “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 trend in the past 10 years was the growing interest in non-fiction titles. While all of the decade’s bestsellers were novels, fiction began to lose ground in the second half of the 2010s. In 2019, only 32% of the year’s best-selling books were fiction as people bought more cookbooks, self-help titles, and books on politics. 

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