Kiwis are sticking to paperbacks, according to data released this week.

Research shows 80 per cent of Kiwis only read hard copy books, just 5 per cent read digital e-books and 14 per cent read a combination of both.

Books are the fifth most bought item online, behind airline tickets, clothing, entertainment and travel services such as hotel bookings, according to Nielsen.

Data by Amazon-owned online book retailer Book Depository shows orders of books to New Zealand had increased by 45 per cent in the past three years.

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For a while, it appeared physical books would perhaps fall out of favour with consumers as more e-readers came to market but that doesn't seem to have been the case in New Zealand.

Kiwis buy almost five million books each year, Nielsen figures show, and are buying truckloads of self-help, romance and feminist literature.

New Zealanders are the second-highest consumers of physical books among the 160 countries Book Depository sells to, its own data shows.

Romance novels sold to Kiwis through Book Depository had increased by 9 per cent in the past 12 months.

Book Depository commercial director Javier Rosales said children's books were the largest selling category of books outside of romance.

"Almost a third of the books purchased in New Zealand are for children, which is more than the next most popular category, non-fiction," Rosales said.

"Readers make an emotional connection with the story as they turn the pages, and I think this is why we are continuing to see growth in book sales in New Zealand and in our other countries."

Retail NZ general manager of public affairs, Greg Harford, said physical books were still "hugely popular" with Kiwis.

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"While digital books have a solid niche, there's a tangibility to hard copy books that creates a very different experience for the customer than reading a digital version," Harford said. "Hard copy books are massive sellers online, but the demand for books is boosting demand in bricks and mortar retail too."

Local bookshops had been impacted by the rise of online bookstores for several years but were now "holding their own", Harford said.

"Independent bookstores are reporting good sales, and we are seeing larger chains begin to refit and reinvent their stores to suit customer needs," he said.

"Visiting a physical bookstore allows customers to browse, look at books before they buy, and be inspired by the things they see, and it's hard to replicate that experience online."

Book Depository was acquired by Amazon in 2011. It was founded by Andrew Crawford, a former Amazon employee, in 2004.