Jumping on the basketball bandwagon

If you live in Canada, maybe you've heard about the history-making event taking place right now in the sports world. That's right, Canada's one and only NBA team, the Toronto Raptors, are in the finals for the first time ever and I guess you could say we're pretty excited. 

Gif showing crowd reaction in the Jurrassic Park, the fan area outside Scotiabank Arena in  Toronto .

In true BookNet fashion, we're expressing this excitement by cheering on the Raptors, yes, #GoRaptorsGo, but also by delving into the sales trends and data for basketball books. #GoBasketballBooksGo!

We wanted to know: How has the basketball category performed over time? Are Canadians into basketball books the way we're into hockey books? And which are the bestselling books about basketball and its stars? To answer these questions, we turned to SalesData, the sales-tracking service for the Canadian English-language trade book market.

Sales of basketball books in Canada since 2008

We pulled the sales numbers from 2008 to the end of 2018 for the Non-Fiction / Sports & Recreation / Basketball (SPO004000) category to get a sense of the overall interest in books in this sub-genre over the years: Have Canadians been buying more or fewer basketball books?

We also wanted to show a comparison to the larger Non-Fiction category so you can get a sense of what were normal market fluctuations, for example the peaks every year in the fourth quarter for holiday book sales.

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Print unit sales of Non-Fiction books by quarter, 2008-2018

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Print unit sales of Non-Fiction / Sports & Recreation / Basketball books by quarter, 2008-2018

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As it turns out, the rate of sales of adult basketball books is flat to slightly up over the last decade. There have been some large spikes in sales, but overall, the trend is pretty flat. The overall Non-Fiction market, however, has been steadily trending down over the same timeframe. 

The peaks in the sales of basketball books line up with the peaks in the Non-Fiction market in the last quarter of each year: holiday book-buying season. For some years in the basketball sub-genre these peaks are higher than others, which makes them not as consistent overall as in the Non-Fiction market.

Let's look a little closer at the spike in the fourth quarter of 2009: It was the Chris Bosh era of the Raptors and things had picked up for the team, leading them to make the playoffs in 2007 and 2008. At the start of the 2008 season they unveiled a road jersey with a maple leaf on the back "emphasiz[ing] that the Raptors are Canada's team." So interest in the Raptors was up, and the team was marketing itself to Canadians to ramp up cross-country interest in the sport. And perhaps it worked: Book buyers came out to buy basketball books, specifically these three top-selling books in that period: Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball (9780345511768), When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Earvin Magic Johnson (9780547225470), and LeBron James' Shooting Stars (9781594202322).

We probably don't have to tell you the context around the spike in sales in the last quarter of 2018 (the Raptors were performing well in the regular season, on track to get to the finals, which is where we find ourselves right now — keep up!), but we'll look at what's driving those sales by zooming in on the period between 2016 and the present later in this post.

Sales of kids basketball books in Canada since 2008

Now let's look at the Juvenile basketball category. (We haven't included the Young Adult category as sales were non-existent or very low over this time period.) As with the adult category, we're going to show a comparison to the larger Juvenile Non-Fiction category so you can get a sense of the normal market fluctuations.

Print unit sales of Juvenile Non-Fiction books by quarter, 2008-2018

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Print unit sales of Juvenile Non-Fiction / Sports & Recreation / Basketball books by quarter, 2008-2018

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Over the last decade, the Juvenile Non-Fiction market has been trending up and the same goes for basketball books within that category. Sales in the Juvenile sub-genre are quite low, but the spike in Q4 of 2018 might show that there's a growing interest in basketball among children (or the people who buy books for them). Is it because of the Raptor's history-making 2018-19 season? Maybe it's too early to say. Again, we'll show more detail on this sales increase in the next section. Let's go!

Sales of adult and kids basketball books in Canada 2016-2019

Let's zoom in a bit on the sales in the basketball sub-genres: Juvenile Non-Fiction / Sports & Recreation / Basketball and Non-Fiction / Sports & Recreation / Basketball to see whether the National Basketball Association (NBA) regular season and/or playoffs have had any noticeable impact on print book sales over the last few years.

Print unit sales of Juvenile Non-Fiction / Sports & Recreation / Basketball and Non-Fiction / Sports & Recreation / Basketball books by month, 2016-2019

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As you can see from the graph above, the NBA season has little to no impact on book sales in the adult or juvenile basketball sub-genres — with maybe the slight exception that book sales tend to go down, albeit only very slightly in most cases, around the start of the playoffs. Maybe basketball fans are too busy cheering on their teams to read about them?

Regular season on the other hand, lines up pretty nicely with the start of the holiday book-buying season, so it's hard to separate the typical increase in the market from specific interest in basketball books due to the start of the NBA season. However, those spikes in sales could imply that people are buying basketball books as gifts for the basketball lovers in their lives. More so for adult basketball books than for Juvenile books though, perhaps surprisingly.

When we take a look at the largest peaks on the graph above, the biggest sales spike might be in the Juvenile category around the 2018 holiday period. In that period from October to the end of January, the top-selling title was Sarah Howden's 🇨🇦 5-Minute Basketball Stories (9781443456722): "twelve tales about today’s superstars, NBA legends, and the best basketball games of all time."

The next largest spike occurs in the adult basketball sub-genre around the same time period, the 2018 holiday season, when the top-selling title was the first book from former LA Laker's player Kobe Bryant, The Mamba Mentality (9780374201234). (For those of you not in the know — and that included us until we looked up this book — Bryant's self-proclaimed nickname on the court was "The Black Mamba.") The book was released in late October 2018.

It's also worth noting that the 2017 holiday period had a bigger-than-normal spike in sales. There happened to be two big titles in this category at the time: Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano, illustrated by Arturo Torres (9781419726477), and Basketball Now! by Adam Elliott Segal 🇨🇦 (9781770859258), which were both released that fall.

Where do basketball book sales sit in comparison to other sports categories?

We wanted to know how basketball book sales fare when compared with sales for other popular sports: hockey, baseball, football, and soccer.

Print unit sales of sports sub-genres: Hockey, Basketball, Baseball, Football, and Soccer by year, 2008-2018

As you can see, sales of hockey books far outpace sales in the other top Sports & Recreation sub-genres. I guess you can't compete with hockey in Canada. Even at the lowest points for the hockey sub-genre, none of the other top sports come close to matching the sales numbers.

Basketball book sales sit snugly with the other sports sub-genres, sometimes higher, sometimes lower, but relatively on par with the rest.

Bestselling basketball books

Now that we've seen how the overall category is doing, let's look at the bestselling basketball books. To find them, we pulled the lifetime sales (Oct. 17, 2005 to May 26, 2019) in SalesData for the Non-Fiction / Sports & Recreation / Basketball (SPO004000) and Juvenile Non-Fiction / Sports & Recreation / Basketball (JNF054020) categories. and then we added in sales for any Non-Fiction books outside of those categories that had the word "basketball" in either the title, subtitle, or series name.

Bestselling adult basketball books

  1. The Mamba Mentality by Kobe Bryant (9780374201234, Oct. 23, 2018)

  2. The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons (9780345520104, Dec. 7, 2010)

  3. The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons (9780345511768, Oct. 27, 2009)

  4. Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano, illustrated by Arturo Torres (9781419726477, Oct. 10, 2017)

  5. 100 Things Raptors Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die by Dave Mendonca 🇨🇦 (9781629371474, Nov. 1, 2015)

  6. Steve Nash by Dave Feschuk 🇨🇦 and Micheal Grange 🇨🇦 (9780307359476, Oct. 29, 2013)

  7. King James by Ryan Jones (9780312349929, Sept. 1, 2005)

  8. When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Earvin Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan (9780547225470, Nov. 4, 2009)

  9. LeBron's Dream Team by LeBron James (previously published as Shooting Stars, mentioned above) (9780143118220, April 27, 2010)

  10. Relentless by Tim S. Grover (9781476710938, April 16, 2013)

There's one book about the Raptors on this list: 100 Things Raptors Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die (we wonder if one of those things is to watch their team in the playoffs? ✅), which was published in 2015. There's also one about a (non-Raptor) Canadian player, Steve Nash. But the rest are general books about the sport or books by and about American players (Bryant, James, Bird, and Johnson).

Bestselling kids basketball books

  1. 5-Minute Basketball Stories by Sarah Howden,🇨🇦 illustrated by Nick Craine 🇨🇦 (9781443456722, Oct. 16, 2018)

  2. How Basketball Works by Keltie Thomas 🇨🇦 (9781897066195, March 1, 2005)

  3. Basketball by DK (9781551683195, April 11, 2005)

  4. Steve Nash by Peter Bailey 🇨🇦 (9781551683195, Oct. 15, 2007)

  5. My First Book of Basketball by The Editors of Sports Illustrated Kids (9781547800025, Oct. 9, 2018)

  6. Sports Illustrated Kids Big Book of Who Basketball by The Editors of Sports Illustrated Kids (9781618931344, May 5, 2015)

  7. How Basketball Works by Keltie Thomas 🇨🇦 (9781897066188, March 1, 2005)

  8. Slam Dunk! by The Editors of Sports Illustrated Kids (9781618931290, Oct. 14, 2014)

  9. Basketball Stars by Adam Segal 🇨🇦 (9781770857728, Oct. 17, 2017)

  10. Basketball Superstars 2017 by K.C. Kelley (9781338098655, Dec. 27, 2016)

These books have a larger Canadian-authored contingent than the adult list, with half written by Canadians. Most of these are general overviews of the sport or its stars. One book on the list is about Canadian player Steve Nash, but he never played for Canada's current favourite team, the Raptors.

So what will basketball book sales look like in the future? It's hard to say, but looking at the Google trends for "Raptors" and "We the North" suggest that Canadians are getting on this historic bandwagon. Will they stay there and buy basketball books in record numbers? Only time and SalesData will tell.

Are you a publisher, retailer, or librarian who wants to see more data like this? Check out SalesData, the sales-tracking service for the Canadian English-language trade book market. If you’re already a subscriber, and want to see how other categories did during certain time periods (like we did for the basketball and other sport BISAC categories), check out the market share report. If you want to see the top-selling titles in a certain category or for a specific title or subtitle (like we did for the top-selling basketball books), see how to run a bestseller report. If you still have questions, or want SalesData training, contact us!