Library Services Centre

When the world locked down in early 2020, people suddenly found themselves with a lot more time on their hands, and many chose to spend that time reading. According to an article posted on CBC's Sunday Magazine, an Angus Reid Survey conducted in April 2020 found that 40% of Canadian adults said they were reading more.


While this in theory sounds like a win for the book industry, publishing, and more specifically authors were greatly impacted by the COVID measures, and the statistics paint an interesting picture. With bookstores and libraries closed for browsing, people flocked to blockbuster authors and celebrities, while lesser known and debut authors fell by the wayside.


When asked about the circulation stats at their individual libraries, many of our library customers confirmed this data, stating that without the ability to browse in person, patrons were sticking to the familiar. It’s also interesting to note that many book discovery sites such as online bookstores or Goodreads rely on algorithms, thus directing people to those already popular titles and limiting what they see or is suggested to them. According to the New York Times, nine out of ten of the top fiction bestsellers in 2020 were by established authors.


There was some good news for publishers in 2021. According to statistics from the Association of American Publishers, the industry as a whole started to rebound with revenues rising nearly 12% for the calendar year. Independent bookstores were not factored into this data, so it could actually be higher than reported. The increase is a direct result of the reopening of brick and mortar bookstores and libraries, with both sectors increasing their purchasing and seeing an increase in foot traffic.


Despite the common belief that digital books would eliminate print, data also shows that print is still the preferred format for reading. Physical books continue to account for the majority of book sales revenue in the United States and Canada, and publishers continue to focus their marketing efforts into print rather than digital. Also interesting is overall cost comparison between digital and print, which finds that the two formats are much closer than you’d think.


According to a survey conducted in the U.S. in March/April 2020, 70% of the respondents said they preferred print books. The same was true in Canada, where Booknet Canada reported print making up approximately 75% of purchases in 2020. In 2021, booksellers in the US saw a rise in all regular print formats ranging from board books to hard covers, trade paperbacks and mass markets.


On the digital side, e-books took a dip of just under 5% in 2021 after seeing a rise in 2020 during the lockdowns. While there has always been a belief that younger generations prefer digital books over print, this turns out not to quite be the case.


A Pew Research study  conducted in early 2021 showed that 74% of the coveted 18-29 demographic preferred print to digital, as did 62% of the 16-24 year-old age group. Interestingly, juvenile and young adult books made up 41.2% of book sales in 2020 but less than 5% of children’s books were published in digital format. At the same time, the newer digital audiobook format rose while physical audio dropped, reflecting the changing listening habits of readers.


So what do all of these statistics mean? Overall, it’s good news for the book industry and for libraries in particular.  While print book sales haven’t quite rebounded to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, 2021 definitely looked better than 2020. It also bodes well that for all of the online options available to book consumers, approximately half still discover new reads through in person browsing, and nearly half of all readers who purchased books did so because someone suggested the title.


To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram @LibraryServicesCentre, and on Twitter @LSC_since1967. We also encourage you to subscribe to the Weekly Update, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.


Happy Reading!




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