Nielsen BookScan reported an uplift across children’s reference and educational books internationally throughout 2020, delegates at the IPG International Forum heard on Tuesday (9th March).
Nielsen BookScan director Hazel Kenyon gave an overview of 2020, indicating that children’s educational titles had experienced growth around the world.
Focusing on the UK, in March and April digital formats buoyed the industry, while print books flattened in May but grew from July. At the start of lockdown in the UK, Amazon deprioritised the sale of books at the beginning of the lockdown in favour of household essentials and healthcare — however this relaxed as the lockdown progressed.
The year’s reading trends followed similar patterns to previous years, with January ushering in the same interest in health and diet books, and interest in cleaning, cookery, gardening and other hobbies picked up.
The figures showed a good end to the first quarter of the year, with the bestselling WBD title, Simon & Schuster’s Supertato, a bestseller, while in fiction, Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light (Fourth Estate) sold nearly £1m more than the equivalent hardback the previous year.
The company launched a survey encompassing a nationally representative sample, to gauge reading habits in the global pandemic. It found that one third of the 893 people polled were not interested in changing their habits, but a quarter read more crime and thrillers, one fifth read more popular fiction and one sixth read more romance sagas — “perhaps leaning towards a bit of escapism". Very few people wanted to read more about the pandemic.
Kenyon noted fiction started to pick up around March in the UK, as people stocked up shelves for lockdown. January 2020 saw the number of books purchased slightly up on the same period in 2019 — the ratio published in audio, e-book and print roughly the same from the previous year.
A vast change occurred in April 2020, where the print book share dropped to 55% from 68%, the e-book share rose to 37% from 26% from January, and the audio book share increased by 8%. April also saw a drastic impact on the publishing schedule, which recorded 4,000 fewer titles published in 2020, compared with the same month in 2019.
From May onwards, this started to equalise — the print book share rose again, boosting the overall market (to October), ending up with 11 million e-books being sold, but not at the expense of print formats. Kenyon noted that fiction hardbacks were bought in great numbers, citing Richard Osman’s debut crime thriller The Thursday Murder Club (Viking) as the book that topped the fiction charts for the year.
Globally, people turned to hobbies and interests titles, including cooking, puzzles, religion and self help, though no radical permanent shifts in reading trends seem to have occurred. Kenyon reported “more books about providing solace than [Nielsen BookScan] would normally see” doing very well across all territories. “No-nonsense” self-help titles such as The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k also sold well internationally, particularly in Brazil and South Africa.
South Africa saw a very non-fiction dominated chart at the beginning of the year, which is normal for the territory, with “no-nonsense" self help books and an uplift in children's dictionaries, reference books and exam prep materials topping the charts.
India saw good sales of spiritual personal development titles, including Ikigai by Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia (Cornerstone), health and fitness guides, and more reference and home learning books targeted towards older children. Australia saw four out of 10 top titles come from cartoon character Bluey, with brand authors doing well. A notable non-fiction title, Bare Foot Investor by Scott Pape (Wiley), a 2016 title, also sold well.
New Zealand saw a continuation of popular healthy and vegetarian cooking, and self-help books, while brand authors and children’s fiction were among the bestsellers. Brazil echoed South Africa’s non-fiction dominated chart, featuring books on assertiveness, backlist titles and how to make money guides. Children’s fiction in Mexico was dominated by graphic novels.
Commenting on the findings, Kenyon said there were no radical permanent shifts in reading trends, but that books on matters of social importance, such as titles exploring racism, government and politics and personal finance, were still selling well.
She speculated on the “medium-term permanency of the growth of online channel” though data also showed customers flocked back to bricks and mortar bookshops when restrictions temporarily eased. “Books did see people through the difficult times of 2020,” she said.
Nielsen is due to deliver an online presentation exploring how the UK consumer was purchasing books in 2020, on 24th March.