A big issue of the pandemic was been the shifting of publishing schedules, with many titles kicked into 2021, and a relatively small portion shifted from Lockdown 1.0 dates to the autumn of 2020—hysterically reported as a “tsunami” of books in the wider media, one which, it was alleged, would be damaging to new and emerging authors.
There is no question book production went down—way down. Just under 184,000 new titles were released in 2020, a 14% drop on 2019. That figure is the lowest in 11 years, and marks only the second time in the past decade that fewer than 200,000 titles were produced in the UK.
There are many terms and conditions here. This is a very blunt tool, as it measures new ISBNs in all formats recorded by Nielsen BookData, meaning one “title” can have several ISBNs (hardback, mass-market paperback, trade paperback, e-book, audio download, CD etc... even some point-of-sale material has an ISBN). There are a number of factors that can inflate the numbers too—a house embarking on a huge audiobook backlist programme, for example, or an academic publisher making thousands of monographs available digitally for the first time. Having said that, the 184,000 underplays the actual numbers: for self-published books that have an Amazon ASIN number only, no ISBN would be recorded.
But a look across the larger trade publishers suggests there were fewer new books in the shops in 2020. Again, a blunt tool given all the caveats above, but HarperCollins’ ISBN totals, for example, declined by 6%, while Pan Macmillan’s dropped by 12%.