Britain’s readers have been emerging from lockdown to restock their bookshelves, with book sales – and particularly crime novels – booming in the three weeks since booksellers were allowed to open their doors.
The print market continued its healthy run since England’s bookshops reopened on 15 June, with 3.8m books sold in the last week, for £32.6m, up from 3.1m (making £26.9m) at the same time last year. This is a 15% increase in value on last week and 21% year-on-year.
Sales in the last three weeks are up 19% on the same period in 2019, according to book sales monitor Nielsen, with almost 11m titles worth £94m sold over the period. Readers have been pouncing on stories of murder and revenge, with nearly 120,000 more crime and thriller books bought in the last two weeks of June, when compared to the same point last year.
The genre became the UK’s most popular over the period, leapfrogging both general and children’s fiction, as readers snapped up titles including Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher thriller Blue Moon, Lisa Jewell’s dark The Family Upstairs and Peter May’s prescient Lockdown.
A Nielsen survey of 1,000 adults found that reading in general grew over lockdown. Before 23 March, UK adults averaged 3.4 hours per week of reading, but by the start of May, they were spending an extra 2.7 hours reading each week. By mid-May, this slipped slightly to an additional 2.5 hours, but remained ahead of pre-lockdown levels.
Although Nielsen is unable to give accurate sales figures for the second quarter of the year – the closure of bookshops in March meant it stopped producing volume figures – it estimates that overall sales dropped 11% by volume year on year over the period, according to The Bookseller. But since shops reopened on 15 June, they have rebounded, with the first week back seeing volume sales up 31% compared to the same period in 2019, and the following week up by 6% year-on-year – “a noteworthy performance”, said Nielsen, as that was the week David Walliams and Tony Ross’s bestseller The World’s Worst Teachers was released in 2019.
Walliams and Ross’s followup The World’s Worst Parents was this week’s overall bestselling book, but black authors continue to dominate the paperback lists. Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other topped the fiction paperback chart, while Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Akala’s Natives took first and second places on the non-fiction paperback chart.
Waterstones’s Kate Skipper said the first weeks back had “gone really well”, with “strong footfall” in the book chain’s local high street and neighbourhood shops, but fewer visits in “the big metropolitan and tourist areas”. Waterstones also reopened its Scottish shops last week.
“We have been really heartened by all the lovely comments from customers who are very happy indeed to be able to visit bookshops once again,” said Skipper. “With pubs and cafes reopening and more and more of our retail neighbours returning to the high street we are confident that we will continue to see some strong book sales in the coming weeks.”
Along with strong sales for Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, Waterstones also noted impressive performances from the novels Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.