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pandemic book sale

Print book sales reached pre-eBook highs during the pandemic. But now we’re all allowed out again, can they sustain? Let’s find out more.

We all know how companies like Netflix, Amazon and Zoom achieved record sales during the COVID-19 pandemic and all its associate lockdowns. But, did you know that print books also sold in unprecedented numbers during that time, even though bookshops were hardly open?

In this article, we’ll explain this phenomenon and why it happened. Then, we’ll look at whether this upturn in the fortunes of the print book can sustain in the post-pandemic world. Let’s go!

The renaissance

The UK was stuck indoors for most of 2020, but it didn’t stop print books selling in numbers unseen for many years. 202 million books were sold during 2020; the first time sales exceeded 200 million since 2012. It was also a 5.5% increase on 2019’s numbers. 

The three biggest-selling books of 2020 were two fiction books and a cookbook:

  • Charlie Mackesy – The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse
  • Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club
  • Pinch of Nom – Everyday Light

Other strong sellers included a David Walliams children’s book and Barack Obama’s autobiography.In the US, it was the same story, where 751 million books were sold – the highest number since 2009.

Why?

During lockdown, people had to find their own entertainment as they were not allowed to go out or meet up with friends. However, with Netflix, music, games, and so much else to do at home, why did so many people turn to the good old paper book? There are several reasons:

  • We had more time on our hands and not always that much to do. It’s a great time to read all those books that you always wanted to read but never got around to
  • People rediscovered reading for pleasure, or to forget the worrying news all around us
  • Online book clubs became a thing
  • Amazon (and independent bookshops with websites) made it easy to get hold of books even when shops and libraries were closed
  • You can only watch so much Netflix. Desperate for entertainment, people reached for books  

Can it sustain?

Wouldn’t it be great if people carried on buying books and reading the same way they did during the pandemic? But, we can’t be sure that this will happen. After all, there is so much more competition for our time and attention now, in the home and out of it.

The signs are good for the publishing industry. Last year’s National Bookshop Day was a great success, and Christmas book sales were high too. Local bookshops report that they have not seen a significant drop in sales. However, there could be problems on the horizon as supply chain issues may stop print books from getting onto the shelves.

It’s wonderful to see that print books are selling well again. However, we should not forget how digital publishers add to the reading ecosystem. As long as people continue to turn those pages and enjoy the thrill of reading, it’s excellent news.

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