UK bookshops sold over 200 million print copies in 2020, the first time that number had been exceeded since 2012 as the pandemic prompted people to read more.
Figures produced by book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan showed sales had soared despite high street bookshops being closed during both the spring and autumn lockdowns, with year-on-year sales up by 5.2 per cent to 202 million.
Nielsen also calculated that the combined value of these sales was £1.76 billion, a 5.5 per cent increase on 2019.
According to the Bookseller Magazine, this was the biggest rise in sales in the books market since 2007 and the greatest increase in spend since 2009.
The impact of the pandemic on reading was evident as early as May, when Nielsen published research showing two out of five adults in the UK were reading more since the start of lockdown, with the average amount of reading almost doubling from 3.5 hours to six. By contrast, only ten per cent were reading less.
This trend could be attributed to the cancellation of other forms of entertainment and the fact many had extra free time on their hands due to being on furlough.
However, at that time the impact of extra reading had not yet impacted heavily on sales. While 25 per cent of people had bought more books, 18 per cent were buying fewer.
This may suggest that much of the growth in book sales occurred later in the year. One reason for this may be that some people used the spring lockdown to focus on books they already possessed but had yet to get round to but, having completed these, bought more to maintain their elevated volumes of reading.
Evidence of this may be provided by the strong summer sales between the two lockdowns. Charts editor at the Bookseller Magazine Kiera O’Brien said: “The first week bookshops opened in June, print was up 31 per cent in both volume and value against the same week in 2019, essentially reaching November levels – and that was only with bookshops in England open.”
It remains to be seen if people have got into the habit of reading more that will outlast the lockdowns in the longer run.
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