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The Pandemic Saved Hardcover Novels - But for How Long?

By Veronica Letourneau

June, 12th, 2022

Photo: BBC–Source

The pandemic has caused the closing of many businesses, but not when it comes to bookstores. Before the 2020 lockdowns, many bookstores were shutting down, however, since then there has been an increase so significant that stores such as Barnes & Noble have opened new store locations.

Printed book sales in general have also significantly increased their sales from 2019, before the lockdown, to 2020. Statistics show that in 2019 increase in sales was only at a 0.4%, making around 5.9 billion dollars in revenue, while in 2020, after the lockdown was lifted, increased by 7.5% to around 6.3 billion dollars, which is a 400 million dollar difference from the previous year.

The reason is because younger audiences are the ones purchasing printed books and they are not just buying novels either- significant purchases according to Barnes & Nobles have come from manga and graphic novels, while older audiences have preferred novels that are either crime related, romances, or thrillers– which are usually bought through e-books–and not much else.

According to Forbes at the start of the lockdown many bookstores were closing down as e-book sales rose, however, once the lockdown lifted its restrictions e-book sale levels returned to normal and eventually fell by 8% by the end of 2020.

Why is the print book rising in sales and the e-book is not? There are several reasons for the increase in printed books rather than e-books. A big factor for that is who is buying the printed books and who is buying the e-books. As stated earlier, younger audiences are buying printed books. According to a study done by Pew, the people buying books are young women who usually have a steady income. Since they have steady income, they have more time on their hands to read and not work a job at a younger age before they go to college and have more money to buy printed books.

Photo: Pew Research Center– Source

An aspect to consider is according to the Pew study, it is very rare for people to consume only e-books. Most readers, as seen in Pew’s graph, will consume all platforms or just printed novels and rarely pick just audiobooks. This trend is not only the case for book consumers in the U.S.; Statista claims that in countries where books are popular, readers always bought printed books more than e-books.

Another reason for the rise of printed books is the amount of screentime we have experienced as most of the population has transitioned to working from home. This transition has led to a decrease in physical and mental health, leaving printed books as a break from the screen, while e-books as a reminder of it.

A last thing to consider is the collection aspect of printed books. Most covers and spinal décor are a great way to decorate the house, some popular books even making special editions specifically for this purpose. Even on the site Etsy, you can buy books that are just one color to fit their decoration “aesthetic.” Manga and graphic novels demand to be collected as they are serialized, some even having more than 100 volumes.

There are, however, concerns for printed book sales once the aftermath of the pandemic settles. While many people still work from home, there are a number of people who prefer the in-person work environment and have gone back into the workplace which is removing people’s need for a break from screen-time. E-books are usually much cheaper than printed books - many of which can also be pirated - and are easily stored within an e-reader. Of course there will be some who want to collect books, especially if the cover is beautiful or they want to fill up their manga collection, but there could be a rise in pirating Mobi files as we saw when the rise of illegal MP3 downloads occurred in the early 2000s. Hopefully a book Spotify will be developed to save the industry from completely losing their sales to illegal downloads.


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