How Did the Pandemic Impact Reading Habits and the Book Industry?

alex atkins bookshelf booksThe deadly Covid-19 pandemic mandated lockdowns for millions of people around the globe beginning in March 2020. Confined in their own homes for months at a time, people turned to their televisions sets for entertainment and on some level, companionship. Streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, experienced dramatic increases in number of new subscriptions. But how did the pandemic impact people’s reading habits and the book industry in general? A year later, a review of the data by the folks at Global English Editing suggests that there was somewhat of a silver lining to the pandemic for the book industry: more than a third of the world’s population turned to books to read for entertainment and education. Along with that good news, was some bad news: in 2020, the American Bookseller’s Association reported that 70 independent bookstores closed last year due to the pandemic; as of May 2021, 14 bookstores have closed. Independent bookstores weathered the toughest financial storm in recent history by quickly adapting to the new online economy (e.g., holding virtual events and sales, curb-side pick-up, engaging social media campaigns, crowd-funding, etc.), financial support from Covid-19 economic relief grants and loans, as well as grants from the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. Below is a summary of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on reading and the book industry by the numbers:

The global Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns caused:
35% of the world’s people to read more
14% of those read significantly more

Visits to book and literature ecommerce sites in March 2020:
1.51 billion (an increase of 8% from February)

Impact on physical book sales:
In France, physical book sales dropped by 57%
In United States, physical book sales dropped 38%
In United Kingdom, educational book sales increased 234%

Reading habits in America in 2020:
Americans read an average (mean) 12 books per year
The average American has read 4 books in past year
Percentage of Americans who did not read a book in past year: 27%
48% of Americans read the Bible at least 3 times per year
The likelihood of Americans reading was directly correlated with wealth and level of education:
17% of Americans who earn over $75K did not read books
36% of Americans who earn less than $30K did not read books
7% of Americans with a college degree did not read books
37% of Americans with a high school degree or less did not read books

Country that reads the most (number of hours spent in reading per person each week):
1. India: 10:42
2. Thailand: 9:24
3. China: 8:00
4. Philippines: 7:36

5. Egypt: 7:30

22. United States: 5:42

Generation that read more books during pandemic:
Millennials: 40%
GenZ: 34%
GenX: 31%
Baby Boomers: 28%

Size of the global book industry in 2020:
Market size: $119 billion
Number of businesses: 16,395
Number of employees: 315,579

Country that publishes the most books each year:
1. China: 440,000
2. United States: 304,912
3. United Kingdom: 184,000
4. Japan: 139,078
5. Russia: 101,981

Best-selling books of 2020 (
1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
2. My First Learn to Write Workbook by Crystal Radke
3. The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton
4. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
5. Untamed by Glennon Doyle

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