Book shops are the place to be

Books are back with a bang in 2021 and readers are just as in love with reading now as ever before. In a world with Netflix, Disney+, AppleTV, everyone and their mother coming out with a podcast, it can seem a little surprising that the biggest pastime is reading. Over the last 18 months or so, the world as we knew it turned upside down, and what we thought were certainties became uncertain. We were suddenly burdened with hours and hours of time inside, that usually would have been spent commuting, working, socialising. For many people, books have been a lifeline throughout the COVID-19 pandemic; offering escapism, knowledge, and company.

Report after report shows how book sales have risen sharply in 2020/2021 and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Publishers Association reported sales in fiction rising 16% in 2020, from £571m to £688m. Understandably, print sales saw a decrease of 6%, with bookshops up and down the country having to close their doors for a considerable period of the year. Top fiction bestsellers* of 2020 and 2021 include Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, The Mole, the Fox and The Horse, Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, and Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing.

But it’s not just new releases that are seeing the benefit from the sudden skyrocket in book sales, authors of books published years ago are seeing their books back in the charts. Literary agent Kate Mckean tweeted “A book I sold ten years ago this month just earned out.” Earned out being the publishing term when a book has sold enough copies to make the publishers enough money to cover the advance the author received. After a book earns out, the author can then receive royalty payments.

Tweet from Kate McKean, "A Book I sold ten years ago this month just earned out." Dentons. Publishing. News. Book sales.


What has caused this upturned interest in reading?

Over 2020 and 2021, a perfect storm has arisen for people to buy, download, read and listen to books. As previously mentioned, millions of people were suddenly left with time at home to fill. Some people decided to take up new hobbies including crafts and cooking, some people chose to read to escape, others chose to read to educate themselves. Notable non-fiction bestsellers include Kate Allinson & Kay Featherstone’s Pinch of Nom, Philippa Perry’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read, Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, and Marcus Rashford’s You Are A Champion.

One sudden explosion of interest in reading has been seen on social media platforms TikTok and Instagram, in the form of ‘BookTok’ and ‘Bookstagram’. These are communities of people making short, fun, and relatable content surrounding everything to do with reading. Such content includes videos and images of people recommending and reviewing books, memes of people reacting to different book tropes, book hauls, bookshelf tours, top favourites and so much more.


Publishing houses, PRs, and book shops are no longer focussing on traditional media such as magazines and television spots. Influencer marketing is serious business and marketers know that it’s on these platforms where their customers are spending their time; getting inspiration/ entertainment/ news. Shannon DeVito, director of books at American book shop chain Barnes & Noble, told NBC, “So [Barnes & Noble store managers] say, ‘Let’s create a table, let’s create a shelf, let’s create a statement because I know I have so many customers coming in saying, ‘I saw this trending on TikTok.’’

With some of the most binge-able book adaptations hitting the screens such as Sally Rooney’s Normal People, A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, and Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton: The Duke and I, people are eager to hold on to the same emotions they felt whilst watching. To them, reading the book after watching the adaptation is like a whole other series, except now they can put faces and voices to names.


There may be trouble ahead

Customers are being warned, however. Due to many reasons beyond customers and book shop owners’ hands, distribution problems are predicted to be a problem around Christmas time, when shopping is at its peak. According to BookBaby, “over 40 per cent of all printed and ebooks are purchased during the critical timeframe of December 1st to January 15th.”

Supply chain and distribution issues have been in the news recently, with consumers seeing empty shelves in the supermarkets and products being unavailable in their favourite hospitality spots. This hasn’t escaped the retail sector, with Dr Jonathan Owens, logistics expert from the University of Salford Business School stating “we could see higher prices and lack of availability this festive season.” With COVID-19 still a global issue, many large shipping ports across the world are having to close or reduce their size due to outbreaks. The UK have additional setbacks with the shortage of HGV drivers due to a mixture of COVID-19 and the loss of a significant amount of EU workers post Brexit.

Bath Retro Store shop front.

Literary agent, Jennifer Laughran recently tweeted how they predict supply chain issues are going to continue to affect books/bookstores for the rest of the year and into 2022. Book launches and stock orders are being pushed back because of shipping issues and physical printing issues. Laughran’s advice? Do your Christmas shopping early and shop local.

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