During the Covid-19 outbreak, many governments have made it a requirement to establish various quarantine mandates to help curve the spread. As a result, multiple businesses have shut down, schools have been suspended, and people can only leave their homes for essential goods like food and medication.
How Most People Passed the Time During the Pandemic:
As a result of this stay-at-home mandate, many people have found other means to ease their boredom until things return to normal. Some have started exercising at home, and others have picked up baking. At the same time, some have gone on to social media like TikTok to make content.
As for the latter, many niche communities have grown thanks to the lockdown. One is BookTok, a subcommunity on the app that allows book lovers to recommend, discuss, and create content surrounding their favorite reads. Thanks to its popularity, authors like Colleen Hoover have become guaranteed best-sellers.
Some Interesting Book-Buying Patterns in 2020: Most Popular Genres, Increase Online Demands, and the Struggles of Many Physical Bookstores
However, TikTok wasn’t the only outlet that affected consumers’ book-buying habits in 2020. In fact, despite the global economy hitting a few snags here and there, a few articles showed that unit sales of print books went relatively well in 2020’s first quarter.
However, Kristen McLean, executive director of NPD books’ business development, states that book-buying patterns have changed thanks to the pandemic. Between March 1 and April 4, she noticed an increase in demand for books in categories like:
- Outdoor skills (a 74% increase from last year)
- Medical history, including books on the 1918 flu pandemic (a 71% increase from the previous year)
- Games and Activities (a 42% increase from last year); and
- Literary fiction (a 10% increase from the prior year)
However, juvenile sections (both fiction and non-fiction) have also done well in the same period. Trends from late 2019 had an increase in books focusing on “school readiness” increased. Since children couldn’t go to school, many parents have purchased study aids and activities to help early learners cope during the halt. An increase in cookbooks or homemaking books should also be noted since many have been learning to bake bread during the pandemic.
Aside from the increase in specific genres, another factor has also changed in the book-buying habit, a.k.a., “Where are the people buying books from during lockdown?” Since strict lockdown regulations have been implemented, the pandemic has forced people to buy print sales from online retailers during the period, in contrast to the declining sales from physical retailers.
Nevertheless, Amazon and Barnes & Noble aren’t the only bookstores to benefit during the pandemic. A small start-up online bookstore called Bookshop.org has achieved impressive success during this troubling period. Unfortunately, not all bookstores can boast the same success as independent shops like San Francisco’s famous City Lights Books have turned to crowdfunding to stay afloat.
If online sales were booming, how come some bookstores are struggling?
In short, many physical shops require walk-in traffic to ensure possible sales. The proceeds go to bills, rent, inventory, software licenses, and other monthly expenses. Of course, a portion of the shop’s profit also goes to keeping staff employed while ensuring their shipping process from their warehouse stays intact.
Fast forward to 2021–2022: Are Book-Buying Habits Changing?
Thanks to the release of vaccines, the curve has since died down. This effect enables businesses to eventually open to “semi-normal” status, although at a limited capacity. Now that three years have passed, here are some statistics we need to take note of first:
- In 2021, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) stated that the United States book publishing industry had generated around $29.3 billion compared to 2020’s $26.1 billion, resulting in a 12.3% increase a year after the pandemic.
- At least 19.5% of the overall book trade revenue in 2021 can be attributed to physical retail, a significant improvement thanks to the Covid-19 closures easing. Nevertheless, online purchases stay strong, accounting for at least 32.7% of the industry-wide revenue, equivalent to $9.6 billion.
- In 2022, McLean reported a minor dip in performance for book sales. Nevertheless, Colleen Hoover’s books remain on trend, with three of her books making it to the top-selling list for the year, showcasing that her BookTok support is still ongoing.
2023: Where Are We Now?
- In 2023, outside the US market, BookTok has relative influence. A recent report from Books and Publishing states that BookTok drove at least 3% of UK book sales.
- Despite the app’s controversies, the report states that the percentage of children reading thanks to TikTok trends increased almost a quarter compared to last year. This percentage equals around 1.3 million pupils across the UK, including more than 40,000 readers in Scotland.
- In the United States and Canada, at least 10,000 TikTok users between the ages of 18–45 report that they have been reading more because of BookTok. Percentage-wise, around 48% of these users were from The United States, while 53% were from Canada.
What Can We Expect From This?
As we approach the end of May, it’s clear that one of the most significant factors that help shape and change consumer book-buying habits is BookTok, which is slowly becoming an influential force in driving sales for books worldwide.
While most of the year’s statistics are from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom—it’s clear that publishers from other countries should still make use of these data to determine how they can keep their bookshop business afloat. With significant changes comes great adaptation, and if companies wish to adapt to a broader audience, they’ll have to make sure they use TikTok and other forms of social media to their advantage.
Takeaway: The pandemic has played an influential part in how certain books achieve impressive sales. While there has been increased demand for books (both physical and eBook), physical shops have struggled because of the lack of walk-in traffic. However, in 2021 and 2022, Covid-1 restrictions have eased considerably, making it easier for physical shops to get back on track. While there had been a minor dip in 2022, publishers remain hopeful as the publishing industry remains a billion-dollar behemoth.