COVID-19: People rediscover love of books in coronavirus pandemic as sales rise – but what are they reading?

Fiction sales rose by 16% last year as people “rediscovered their love of reading” according to UK publishing industry data.

Titles such as The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman and Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell were cited as popular choices as revenues climbed to £688m.

The figures are the latest to suggest there was a reading boom in 2020 as COVID-19 restrictions left people working from home and banned from leisure activities with more time on their hands.

The data, from the Publishers Association, showed the overall value of UK publisher sales of books, journals and rights sales both at home and abroad rose by 2% to £6.4bn.

Consumer publishing – which includes fiction, non-fiction and children’s titles – saw a 7% increase to £2.1bn including a 9% rise in the UK to £1.5bn.

There was a big decline in the separate education category but an increase for academic offerings.

Fiction sales saw growth of 16% to £688m but non-fiction still sold more, up 4% to £1bn, and the children’s category grew 2% to £396m.

By format, book sales fell across the publishing industry but were up by 4% for consumer titles, with consumer digital books up 24% and audio downloads by 37%.

Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said: “Publishing has proved incredibly resilient throughout the significant challenges of 2020.

“It’s clear that many people rediscovered their love of reading last year and that publishers were able to deliver the entertaining and thought-provoking books that so many of us needed.

“Despite the positive overall performance of the publishing industry, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that it’s been a particularly challenging year for education publishers and many smaller publishers.

“It’s also been a hugely difficult time for many booksellers and authors whose livelihoods have been enormously disrupted.

“With bookshops now able to reopen, and physical events returning, we are optimistic that people will soon be able to enjoy books together again.”

Last month, Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury said it was on course for bigger than expected profits after a surge in reading that had provided a “ray of sunshine” over the past year.

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