In Brief

Has lockdown written a new chapter for the book industry?

Bloomsbury reports best half-year profits since 2008 and sales of classic long reads have boomed

Lockdown and social distancing measures may have had a negative impact on many sectors of the UK’s economy, but for the book industry the Covid-19 restrictions have had the opposite effect.   

Research published in May by Nielsen found that two in five UK adults were reading more books since the lockdown began in March. And as a whole the nation’s time spent reading books had increased from 3.5 hours per week on average to six hours. 

Publishers are also seeing the positive effects of people spending more time at home. 

Bloomsbury, publisher of the Harry Potter series, has reported its best half-year results since 2008 with profits from February to August increasing by 60% to £4m. Online book sales and e-book revenues were both “significantly higher”, and during the period total sales across the group rose by 10% to £78.3m, BBC News reports. 

‘Unseasonably busy’

Bloomsbury believes that people have “rediscovered the pleasure of reading” and there had been a “real uptake”. Founder and chief executive Nigel Newton said: “Perhaps people tired of watching streamed movies which they binged on to begin with and turned to books.”

With a renewed enthusiasm for books and the festive season approaching, bookshops are “unseasonably busy”, the BBC adds. 

Philip Jones, editor of the Bookseller trade publication, said: “We are seeing an early Christmas for bookshops. November’s book sales are happening in October. Normally the bookshop market gets up to 40 million units per week in November, but it has already happened.”

‘Alluring’ long reads

Book lovers have also used the pandemic to catch up on long classic novels. The “appeal of a seriously long read has never been more alluring”, says The Guardian

According to Penguin Random House, sales of its edition of War and Peace (1,440 pages) have increased 69% in the UK so far this year. The publisher has also seen a rise in sales of classic long reads such as Don Quixote (1,056 pages, up 53%), Anna Karenina (865 pages, up 52%), Middlemarch (880 pages, up 40%) and Crime and Punishment (720 pages, up 35%).

“We were expecting possibly to see a spike in comfort reads, like cosy crime or light comic novels,” said Penguin Classics editorial director Jess Harrison.

“Instead it seems that readers have been inspired in lockdown to tackle the great literary monuments - the books that maybe they’d always intended to read, but never before now had the time to embark on.” 

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