It might be a picture of gloom and doom for most business sectors in 2020 though surprisingly, the publishing sector has come out unscathed from the vagaries of the pandemic. Sales have largely been positive across all segments of the book industry, which includes printed books, eBooks, and audiobooks.
Print sales have risen by 8 percent, which may not seem much but is the highest it has been in several years. Similarly, there has been a rise in demand for eBooks and audiobooks as well even though both make up a smaller proportion of the market. According to figures put up by the Association of American Publishers, audiobook revenue rose by 17 percent over the same period last year. The sale of eBooks too picked up by registering a 16 percent growth.
However, it has still been a tumultuous year given all the lockdown and health scare that we have gone through. Things were thrown into a tizzy when the lockdown was first imposed in March, with uncertainty looming large. With bookstores and educational institutes remaining shut, business went down sharply.
Fortunately for the publishers and nearly everyone involved with the printing business, the slump in demand didn’t last long. Rather, the lockdown seems to have had just the opposite effect as people took to reading in a bigger way to kill the boredom induced by the nation-wide lockdown. Reading books proved to be the best thing to do while remaining shut indoors.
The means to access the books remained intact as stores like Walmart, Target, and Costco were allowed to remain open as they were into selling groceries and other essential items as well. Amazon too made up the bulk of book sales during the period. The same though can’t be said of independent bookstores that remained shut for the most part of the year. Some resorted to extreme cost-cutting measures including lay-offs to remain profitable or cut losses at least.
Publishers dealing with educational books though had a difficult year. Take for instance Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that had to resort to laying off about 22 percent of its staff to cut costs. Those dealing with religious books too had a difficult time as most places of worship remained closed. Another segment that too has taken a huge hit is the travel segment which saw a 40 percent dip in demand. That said, young adult fiction and books on DIY, home, and gardening saw a rise of more than 20 percent.
Other developments witnessed this year, and which too had a rub-off effect on the publishing segment is the massive ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests that swept across parts of the US following the death of George Floyd allegedly due to police atrocities. This led to a rise in demand for books on racism, with titles like How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, and So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo simply flying off the shelf.
Similarly, the American presidential elections too led to a rise in interest for political books. President Donald Trump has been the toast of the season with almost all books on him performing well. Of particular mention is Mary L. Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough which sold over 1.35 million copies in the first week itself.
Then there has been the ex-President Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land that too turned out to be a huge hit, selling millions of copies since launch. It even went on to be a bestseller in Germany, France, Brazil, and Sweden.
On the whole, 2020 has proved to be one of the best years for the publishing industry in a very long time. The challenge though will be to keep the momentum going what with lockdown restrictions generally easing. A successful vaccination drive should bring back normalcy in 2021 and it remains to be seen if people continue to read as much as it did last year.
With a keen interest in tech, I make it a point to keep myself updated on the latest developments in the world of technology and gadgets. That includes smartphones or tablet devices but stretches to even AI and self-driven automobiles as well, the latter being my latest fad. Besides writing, I like watching videos, reading, listening to music, or experimenting with different recipes. Motion picture is another aspect that interests me a lot and maybe I’ll make a film sometime in the future.