Book sales fell 11% by volume year on year in the second quarter of 2020, estimates by Nielsen suggest, although there have been gains on 2019 since bookshops reopened.
Hazel Kenyon, Nielsen's book research director, revealed the data on the opening day of The Bookseller's Marketing and Publicity Conference on Monday 6th July.
Kenyon said quarter one of 2020, which ended on 21st March, had seen value up by 0.3% on the previous year, with volume down 0.9% as the effects of coronavirus were felt even before the country went into lockdown.
She said: “If we look at the week on week we can see that, after a strong start to the year, we saw sales start to decrease in the middle of February year on year. That was really driven by the lack of consumer confidence at that point, people started staying at home and I think even perhaps that was slightly before we started discussing lockdown but certainly Covid was in discussion.”
With bookshops closed, Nielsen has not been able to report the data for quarter two, running to 15th June. However, the company has put together estimates using data from other sources which suggests volume decreased by 11% year on year.
According to the estimates, following an uptick ahead of shops closing, the first week of lockdown saw a plunge of around 27% week on week. However, the figures suggest there was a slow recovery of consumer purchasing and in the supply chain as lockdown progressed.
The Boy, the Fox and the Mole by Charlie Mackesy (Ebury), Hilary Mantel's The Mirror & the Light (Fourth Estate), the Pinch of Nom titles (Bluebird) and David Walliams' Slime (HarperCollins Children's Books), the last released during lockdown, had all done well, she said.
Once lockdown eased and shops reopened, data for week 25 showed encouraging signs with sales by volume up 30.2% year on year and value increasing 30.4%. The figures showed “consumer appetite for rushing out and getting the books they hadn't been able to buy from their beloved bricks and mortar shops”, Kenyon said.
The following week had more modest growth from the previous year, up 5.9% by volume and 9.3% by value. Week on week there was a 16.3% volume and 14.1% value drop-off following the initial excitement of lockdown easing.
Bestsellers published in quarter two included Joe Wicks' Wean in 15 (Bluebird) and Suzanne Collins' The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Scholastic). Alongside Slime and Mrs Hinch, there were a number of popular thrillers from Lee Child, Peter May, Michael Connelly and James Patterson.
Kenyon said: “There's obviously been a very big impact on the books published in quarter two. A lot of those spring titles have now been pushed back into summer, perhaps even back into October and obviously we've got multiple Super Thursdays on the cards – we're going to need to come up with some new superlative to describe that publishing section of the year. But with this concertina effect, there was a lot of movement in books entering the market.”
The number of books being sold into quarter two that made it into the top 5,000 fell by around 400 titles on the 1,000 released the previous year, she said.
“Overall, though, the volume sales were not too far off, so it was only about 100,000 less in terms of the volume sales that those new Q2 titles were contributing,” she said.
Genres that did well during the lockdown included general and literary, picture books, romance and sagas, and inspirational, female-driven autobiographies such as Untamed by Glennon Doyle (Ebury) and Michelle Obama's Becoming (Penguin). Novelty and activity book sales and those of textbooks and YA books reduced during the period.
Kenyon's presentation came during a packed first session of the conference which included a keynote speech by The Lonely Century author Noreena Hertz (Sceptre), tips on harnessing the power of micro influencers by Naomi Bacon, co-founder of the Tandem Collective, and the inside story of how the BA rolled out Independent Bookshop Week during lockdown by Emma Bradshaw, the association's head of campaigns.