Consumer book sales are strong on both sides of the Atlantic, despite – or perhaps because – of the Covid pandemic.  In the UK, according to figures released by the Publishers Association (PA), consumer book sales saw a 7% increase to £2.1bn in 2020, with fiction proving particularly resilient as people sought escape during the Covid lockdown, In the US, the Association of American Publishers report revenue up 16.4% for the first two months of 2021, with the main increase coming from adult trade books.

In the UK, the income from printed consumer books increased by 4% to £1.7bn.  However, the education and academic sectors fared less well, with a 21% decline in income to £528m.  Total publishing income, across all formats and all sectors, rose 2% to £6.4bn.

Stephen Lotinga, CEO of the UK’s PA, told the Bookseller: “Despite all the challenges, it’s been a pretty incredible year in the sense that, whilst being up 2% isn’t the highest increase of any industry at any time ever, considering the sheer scale of the problems we were trying to deal with, I think it’s an incredible performance.

“Our sales overseas stayed steady overall which, considering the difficulty we had getting books to our markets, was pretty phenomenal. But the real story I think is at home where there’s been a huge resurgence of reading, particularly consumer publishing and fiction in particular. People had more time on their hands and what they turned to was great novels.”

In the UK academic sales were hit by the closure of universities and declines in English language teaching markets.  Audiobook downloads increased by 37% up to £133m.

Commenting on the figures overall, Lotinga said: “A lot of people have gone back to reading, enjoyed it and we believe there’s an opportunity to capitalise on that, not just as an industry but also for wider society. There are clearly enormous benefits from a highly literate society, we’re trying to build a knowledge-based economy. Well, clearly reading and publishing are an important part of that.”