When people have the rug pulled from under them, a common response is to escape into a book, seeking comfort, empathy, laughter and hope that life goes in circles and that we will come out of whatever hit us, eventually. Book sales figures in the UK and the titles readers picked up last year seem to point to this.
Nielsen BookScan figures for 2021 show a 3% increase in revenue from 2020 in the UK and Germany. UK book sales were the highest in a decade — 212 million print copies — with crime, sci-fi and romance titles selling 20% more than in 2019 despite the pall cast by the pandemic.
Fiction was up 20% compared with 2019, with crime and thriller seeing 19% volume growth; science fiction and fantasy, 23%; and romance, 49%. Richard Osman, the British comedian, novelist and creator and co-presenter of BBC One TV’s quiz show Pointless, made a point for the appeal of crime works: His The Thursday Murder Club was the No 1 bestseller in 2021 and The Man Who Died Twice was placed fourth.
Non-fiction titles addressing the needs of body, mind and spirit were snapped up by consumers. This category saw the biggest growth, 50%, and an all-time high of £18.7 million worth of sales. Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, which offers hope and inspiration in uncertain times, was second on the top 10 list, followed by Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, a fantasy novel about undoing regrets and deciding what makes life worth living.
Books have proven their lasting power time and again, said Nielsen’s Jackie Swope in The Guardian. “Overall, the year’s bestsellers show buyers seeking out comfort, laughter, escapism, familiarity and maybe a sense of community, given the continued impact of social media in bringing in new authors on existing platforms and creating conversations around new and old books.”
This article first appeared on Jan 24, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.