One unexpected positive outcome from the COVID-19 lockdowns in the USA, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand was a surprising boost in book sales.
With millions of people suddenly and unexpectedly forced to stay at home, a surprising number of people have turned to books to pass the time and distract from the stresses of the current global situation.
As we all know, the book publishing industry has, for years, been plagued by panicked warnings that ‘traditional publishing is dying’ and ‘books are dying’ and ‘no one is reading books anymore’.
When e-readers and self-publishing became widespread and viable around 2010, these desperate cries resounded ever louder.
It is true that publishing has changed and evolved significantly. E-books and audiobooks represent a much larger percentage of book sales than ever before, and self-publishing through platforms such as Amazon has removed much of the monopoly that the New York publishers held prior to 2010.
But time and again, even as the industry has undergone changes, books – and their publishers – remain.
And 60% of Millennials still prefer visiting physical bookstores over shopping on platforms such as Amazon and Book Depository.
Yet, when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world in early 2020, there were renewed concerns that this would – finally – spell the end of the publishing industry.
It is readily evident that Coronavirus has had negative impacts on the publishing industry. Printing plant closures, shipping delays, job losses and the postponement of key industry events (such as the London Book Fair) meant that much of the day-to-day of the publishing industry was turned on its head. The boost in book sales however, has given a hint of shining light to this suffering industry.
Alongside the coronavirus pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement also prompted a surge in sales of books by Australian Indigenous authors.
Indigenous voices, long underrepresented in publishing, are finally being heard. Dr Anita Heiss, who led the Black Words project to promote the works of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers, says people are actively seeking out works by Indigenous writers.
“What I’ve seen in the space of literature is an overwhelming request from people wanting to know what to read, where to go and how people can access the literature.” Dr Heiss told ABC News.
But Indigenous works are not the only genre that book buyers are looking for. Consumers are overwhelmingly looking for escapism through fiction, with fiction sales increasing by a third in the United Kingdom.
Additionally, countries across the globe have also seen a steep increase in the sale of children’s educational books, non-fiction and study guides.
While the increase in book sales may be temporary, and the publishing industry certainly has to look at the negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, it is clear that publishing is unlikely to disappear entirely.