Though many others have struggled, the book industry has flourished since the start of lockdown. In the first national lockdown of March 2020, fiction sales in the UK rose by a third; online sales at Waterstones rose by 400% week on week. By the end of the year, the industry had seen sales of over 200 million print books for the first time since 2012. The national interest in reading was growing exponentially, and it is not surprising.
For me, the motivation to read has always been twofold: escapism and education. These factors have become crucial in the struggle for sanity over the last year; more than ever we’ve needed escapism to momentarily forget the struggles of daily life, and equally we’ve needed education to learn more about the world and its unpredictability. They are factors that, I believe, play largely into the increase in book sales during the pandemic.
The days all merge into one and it’s a challenge to find an exciting way to spend your time
There has been a big influx in anti-racist and race-related book sales since the resurgence of Black Lives Matter movement in May 2020. Bestsellers during that initial period included Reni Eddo-Lodge’s fantastic Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, for example. Not only have people been self-educating to understand current affairs, but education books in general largely drove sales as children and students have been forced to homeschool intermittently throughout 2020/21.
For many of those privileged enough to have new and inordinate amounts of free time since the start of the pandemic, life has become fairly uneventful. The days all merge into one and it’s a challenge to find an exciting way to spend your time. A similar sense of monotony has been experienced by those finding themselves working from home, with no distinctions to be drawn between home life and work life; no daily commute, no change in environment or company.
Many people have been discovering the satisfaction of closing the final page of a novel, as opposed to your computer tabs
Every day feels long and difficult, particularly as we’ve moved into winter. In addition to this national lethargy, the world around us has felt completely out of control. Not only have the British people had to face the endless suffering and increasing death rates resulting directly from the virus, we’ve also seen a major increase in climate anxiety, uncontrollable bushfires, global political unrest, violent protests, increases in poor mental health… and so many more stress-inducing events. As a result of these daily challenges, the need for escapism is arguably stronger than ever.
Reading a physical book is one of the last ways to engage your brain and interact with art without using a screen. Lockdown has tightened our relationship with technology more than ever. We are working online, studying online, socialising online, taking our fitness classes online, attending events online, shopping online and even going to the pub online! It’s exhausting to be so dependent on a screen and by the end of the day I can’t wait to close my laptop and pick up a physical book. There’s something so pleasing about the feel of paper in your hands, the cracking of a new spine and escaping the penetrating glare of blue light… it’s analogue entertainment at its finest.
As such sales in physical books have been increasing while the ebook market is plummeting. Many people have been discovering the satisfaction of closing the final page of a novel, as opposed to your computer tabs.
As the UK population have picked up new hobbies and rediscovered reading, large chain booksellers and publishing houses have benefited incontestably. Amazon has gained the most from the increased sales, being able to reduce physical book prices and guarantee fast delivery. Unfortunately this means independent bookstores and publishers have struggled to stay afloat, with insufficient means for online sales or large scale delivery services. Furthermore, the library ecosystem suffers more with the increasing sales from big corporations like Amazon and Waterstones. While lockdown has been positive overall for the book industry, it has benefited some sections more than others.
It is unsurprising to me that books have become popular once more with the introduction of lockdowns in the last year. Paradoxically, reading is both an amazing tool to learn about the world we live in, whilst also being the best means of escaping it. We must continue to buy books, visit libraries and share stories at the rate we have in 2020, even in the post-coronavirus world. Storytelling is integral to building empathy, educating ourselves and finding refuge from the crazy world we live in, as well as supporting a whole industry of creatives and enthusiasts.