Books and COVID-19

There have been a lot of changes to consumers’ buying habits since COVID-19 hit the United States in March. Here’s an overview of how the publishing industry has transformed over the last few months.

Book Buying Trends

Unsurprisingly, there has been an increase in fiction focusing on pandemics—specifically the 1918 flu pandemic. Fiction sales overall have gone up, while nonfiction has taken a hit. This can be attributed to the general desire for escapism during times of stress, and nothing is more stressful than a pandemic that’s affected the entire globe. People are looking to fantasy worlds so they don’t have to think about their current reality.

There has also been a massive spike in game and puzzle sales. People have probably hit a limit with how much Netflix and YouTube they can watch, and have turned to these classic games as a way to pass the time while social distancing and in quarantine. Some publishers found themselves overwhelmed by this increased demand, and companies like Galison had to stop taking new orders entirely in an effort to fulfill older orders.

Another way people are dealing with the increased time spent at home is by baking and cooking. With no restaurants open except for takeout, people have shifted to home-cooked meals. This correlates with a direct rise in cookbook sales as people look for new recipes to try out in the kitchen.

With schools closing, parents began buying a lot of juvenile nonfiction, which was a direct reversal of trends in adult categories. This trend is due to the increase in homeschooling. So topics like teaching materials, history, science, language arts, and other activity books are now seen as essential by parents across America.

Bookselling

Physical sales of books have obviously decreased with the closing of bookstores around the world. Barnes & Noble and many independent bookstores have turned to curbside pickup in an effort to keep selling. They’re also managing to fulfill online or call-in orders.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Amazon announced they weren’t going to prioritize book orders in an effort to keep up with demand for other items they deemed essential. As a result, there’s been a significant decrease in book sales from Amazon.

Luckily, a little more than a month before the pandemic hit, Bookshop launched online. Marketed as the “Rebel Alliance to Amazon’s Empire,” Bookshop hopes to provide an alternative to Amazon for online book buying by helping indie publishers and bookstores, with a percentage of sales going directly back to them. In just over eleven weeks after opening, Bookshop raised over $1.5 million for indie bookshops and managed to capture over 1 percent of Amazon’s book sales—something the CEO, Andy Hunter, thought would take three years. As of early August 2020, Bookshop has raised over $5.8 million for independent bookstores.

It’s too soon to tell how things will pan out in the long run for our buying and selling habits, but it is clear that things will probably never be the same as before the pandemic hit.

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