The events of recent months have had a devastating impact on lives and businesses across the world, and a global recession seems certain to follow. But there are always positives that come from even the darkest times, and one such ray of light has been a surge in reading during lockdown.
We all have a mental shortlist of books we intend to read “when we get a chance.” With literally billions confined to their homes for weeks on end, that chance arrived in the first half of 2020. Lockdown has provided an opportunity for the general populace to fall back in love with reading, and a survey by Nielsen Book reported that people have spent on average twice as much time reading as they did before lockdown. This in turn means the book industry, especially where ebooks are concerned, is one of the few sectors that has not been crippled by the global pandemic.
Surging sales figures
Who would want to have been a retailer in recent months? High streets and shopping malls have been deserted with enforced closure of stores, and although things are slowly returning to some kind of normal, the global economic storm clouds of recession are gathering, as reported from this infographic. But one lesson learned has been the vital lifeline that cyberspace can offer in a pandemic.
This is not just in terms of staying in touch through Zoom and the like. Retailers also learned that with a solid online presence, the closure of stores did not have to mean sales grinding to a halt. This report from Sky News demonstrated the dichotomy perfectly, with Waterstones reporting a 400 percent increase in online sales, while small independent bookstores without an ecommerce platform could only look on helplessly.
But it is ebooks that proved the biggest winners. Here, there was no need for human interaction at all. No warehouse picking, no deliveries left at a safe distance, just a click, an online payment and you can start reading.
What have people been reading?
Many surveyed by Nielsen revealed that their reading tastes changed after lockdown. Specifically, there was an increased appetite for crime fiction and thrillers. Dystopian novels were less popular, a trend quite different to that in the movie streaming sector, where titles like Contagion topped the ratings.
A key factor here was the reason for reading. Naturally, more than 50 percent said it was because they had more time available. But over a third said books provided “an escape” from what was happening in the real world. Thriller writer Louise Doughty said that at times like this, people don’t necessarily want a “feel good” book to cheer them up. What they really need is to “be absorbed” by a book that will suck them into its world and hold their attention.
Among younger readers, the closure of schools was likely instrumental in the US seeing a 66 percent increase in children’s non-fiction titles, while study aids soared by well over 200 percent.
An uncertain future
The medium-term future is still unclear, and tough times are ahead for writers, publishers and sellers. But the book industry has survived many challenges, and the International Publishers Association is confident that it will face the challenges of the coming months head-on.
Markus lives in San Francisco, California and is the video game and audio expert on Good e-Reader! He has a huge interest in new e-readers and tablets, and gaming.