Coronavirus: People 'rediscovering books' as lockdown sales jump

By Rebecca Marston
Business reporter, BBC News

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Image source, Bloomsbury
Image caption,
Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood was one of Bloomsbury's best selling titles

People have "rediscovered the pleasure of reading" in lockdown, publisher Bloomsbury has said, after reporting its best half-year profits since 2008.

The firm, best known for publishing the Harry Potter books, said profits jumped 60% to £4m from February to August.

Online book sales and e-book revenues were both "significantly higher".

It said bestsellers during the period included "Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race" and "Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood".

Other popular consumer books during the period included "White Rage", "Humankind" and "Such A Fun Age".

Philosophy, race and cooking

Nigel Newton, founder and chief executive of Bloomsbury, said the firm initially feared lockdown would batter the business after it shut all its shops in March.

But he told the BBC: "As we cycled through the month there became a real uptake in reading, perhaps people tired of watching streamed movies which they binged on to begin with and turned to books."

He said people's book choices had reflected the mood of the people throughout the past six months: "In June we published 'Humankind' by Rutger Bregman, people wanted hope and a positive view of humanity, which he gave, and in June itself the biggest social issue of our time, with 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race'.

"[That was] unpinned all the while by the desire to make good food, so the Dishoom cookbook and others really sold terrifically well."

During the period total sales across the group rose by 10% to £78.3m.

Image source, Rose Cole
Image caption,
Rose Cole outside Daunt Books in London's Marylebone: "Customers are enjoying browsing more than ever."

Renewed enthusiasm

Bloomsbury also said its digital resources division had seen a 47% rise in sales as academic institutions had switched to digital products to support remote learning.

Philip Jones, editor of the industry publication the Bookseller, said the last six months had thrown up some interesting trends in book buying behaviour.

"Initially when the stores closed at the start of lockdown in March, online sales were largely brand names, things that were easily searchable, celebrity authors or high-profile TV series. 'Normal People' for example went back to the top of the bestseller lists after being dramatised on TV, but when the shops reopened in June we saw the charts go back to normal."

He told the BBC the renewed enthusiasm for books during the pandemic had continued, and bookshops were unseasonably busy.

"We are seeing an early Christmas for bookshops. November's book sales are happening in October. Normally the bookshop market gets up to £40m per week in November, but it has already happened."

In Marylebone in central London, Rose Cole, general manager of independent bookseller Daunt Books, said shops such as hers were a long way from normal as visitors continue to stay out of major cities: "We are acutely feeling the effects of people staying away from central London and there's obviously a lot to deter customers from shopping on high streets in the way in which they used to.

"But what we are seeing is that those customers coming in are enjoying the experience of browsing and discovering books more than ever."

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