Lockdown learning helps education market rise as study guides’ sales surge

Though it may not be Back to School in the traditional sense, 2020 could be a record year for study and revision guides. As the coronavirus crisis saw schools close and remote-working parents take on the task of their children’s education, educational titles flooded the TCM charts.

But Nielsen BookScan volume and value data has been unavailable since the beginning of lockdown, just as educational workbooks and study guides thundered into the charts. While we have no sales data on individual bestsellers, we can still get an idea of the effect of the homeschooling wave on the ISBN counts of certain categories in the weekly Top 5,000 across the past 10 weeks, compared to the same period in 2019. Reference & Home Learning has, unsurprisingly, seen the biggest change, with 1,655 titles charting in the top 5,000 in total across lockdown, a 146% increase year on year. The School Textbooks & Study Guides category has also seen an increase, with the 4,870 titles charting a 32% jump compared to 2019. The sector, usually the Back to School focus’ bread and butter, is focused more on secondary school, GCSE and A-Level guides, whereas Reference & Home Learning, part of the Children’s Non-Fiction sector, tends to house primary school educational workbooks. Parents, in previous times, might have been more likely to encourage their teenagers to work alone on their GCSE revision with a helpful guide, but schools closing to all but the children of key workers across the country since 20th March resulted in a huge boom in pre-school and Key Stage 1-level workbooks, as suddenly-homeschooling parents of primary school pupils scrabbled for help.

School’s out

However, it didn’t look like the cancellation of GCSE and A-Level exams for 2020 slowed the sales of secondary education revision guides. Each of the School Textbooks & Study Guides sub-categories rose by at least double-digit percentage points, with both Literature, Arts & Humanities and Social Sciences improving by 40% or more. Only Vocational dipped—though we should clarify, its 77% fall year on year was a difference of just 24 books, from 31 ISBNs charting in 2019 to seven this year.

Collins has held the lion’s share of the educational workbooks hitting the weekly Children’s Non-Fiction top 20 across lockdown, with the Writing Workbook Ages 3–5, Numbers Ages 3–5, Problem Solving Ages 5–7 and Addition and Subtraction Ages 5–7 all charting—and often hitting the overall Top 50 too.

We can look at the first-quarter 2020 bestseller chart to get an idea of how School Textbooks & Study Guides were doing before lockdown hit—the chart runs from the start of the year to 21st March, the day after school closures were officially announced. Across the board, the category was 6.4% up in volume year on year, with Reference & Home Learning up an even more impressive 25%, its best first-quarter performance since 2016. Clearly, news of school closures in other countries had parents panic-buying even before the UK government’s measures were put in place.

An Inspector Calls, J B Priestley’s GCSE-set text, was once again top of the School Textbook & Study Guide charts for quarter one, as it was for 2019’s first 12 weeks—though the CGP edition leapfrogged the Heinemann one to claim the top spot. The Heinemann edition dropped to seventh.

CGP titles accounted for 15 titles in the chart’s top 20, with four of the publisher’s Revision Question Cards titles charting. GCSE English dominated the top of the chart, with four of the top five titles covering either the English Language or Literature exams, with the notable exception of Numbers 0–20 Ages 3–5.

Collins’ Writing Workbook Ages 3–5 topped the first-quarter chart for Reference & Home Learning, as it did for the same period in 2019, though this year it’s lead was around 2,000 copies greater than it was in 2019. The publisher performed a clean sweep in the top eight, with only Year 2 English SATS Targeted Practice, in seventh, tied to a particular exam.