COVID-19: Why book sales have skyrocketed and what we read

  • Sales of fiction books in the UK in 2020 rose 16% – despite bookstores closing during COVID-19 closures.
  • Many people have rediscovered the love of reading, according to the director of the UK Publishers Association.
  • Sales of consumer titles in the United States for the first two months of 2021 are also on the rise.
  • Here are some of the best-selling books from the past 12 months.

Have you read more or less in the past year? Without a commute to work, you may have lost that window of reading time, or perhaps you have sought solace in reality in the pages of fiction.

If it’s the latter, you’re not alone. UK fiction book sales in 2020 rose 16% to over $ 970 million – even when bookstores were closed for months of the year, according to figures from the Publishers Association.

“It’s clear that many people have rediscovered their love of reading over the past year,” said Stephen Lotinga, Managing Director of the Publishers Association, “and that publishers have been able to provide the entertaining and engaging books that many of us needed. “

The breakdown of UK book sales in 2020.

Image: Publishers Association

Many of us were also listening to books, as UK audio downloads rose 37% to $ 188million, while children’s books rose 2% to $ 560million as families searched. to entertain the youngest during the lockdown. Non-fiction also posted a strong performance, with sales up 4% to $ 1.4 billion.

Readers turned to digital books, with sales up 24% to $ 591 million, but print sales also increased 4% to $ 2.4 billion.

“The edition has proven to be incredibly resilient throughout the significant challenges of 2020,” Lotinga said.

The World Economic Forum launched its official Facebook Book Club in April 2018. Readers from around the world are invited to join in and discuss a variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction. This is a private Facebook group dedicated to discussing a book each month.

Every month, we announce a new book on our social networks. We then publish an excerpt and start a chapter-by-chapter discussion with the group members. Selected comments and questions are sent to the author, who in return sends us a video response.


Unlike other book clubs, the group benefits from the direct involvement of the authors, giving you – our global audience with members around the world – a chance to connect directly with some of the most influential thinkers and experts in the world. world.

We have featured authors such as Steven Pinker, Elif Shafak, Yuval Noah Harari, and Melinda Gates.

You can join the Book Club here.

Follow us on twitter here.

Follow us on Instagram here.

Strong book sales in the United States

It’s a similar story in the United States, where the commercial or mainstream book industry grew 9.7% in 2020.

Consumer book sales rose 19.1% in February, to $ 646 million, and more than 20% year-to-date, to $ 1.3 billion in revenue, according to the latest figures from the Association of American Publishers.

But while much of the world went virtual during the pandemic, readers still love the feeling of turning the pages in their hands, as shown by sales of paperbacks and hardcover books compared to e-books.

Percentage of total commercial sales in February 2021, by format

Percentage of total commercial sales in February 2021, by format

Image: AAP

5 books we read

The UK’s best-selling book for 2020 was The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy – a straightforward graphic novel of ‘friendship, fears, hopes and dreams and struggles’ which also spent 75 weeks (and counting) on ​​the New York Times bestseller list.

Mackesy says the things he’s learned in life he’s tried to “distill into these little people” and he wants that “to catalyze good things.”


Also among the world’s best-selling books last year was former US President Barack Obama’s memoir A Promised Land, which was also Australia’s Christmas number one, according to Nielsen – and took first place on Amazon’s bestseller list for 2020.


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is on both the New York Times bestseller list and Nielsen’s top 10 bestsellers for 2020 in the UK. Set in a quiet coastal town in North Carolina in 1969, it tells the story of a young woman who goes from surviving alone in the swamp to that of a murder suspect.


British comic book actor David Walliams took Christmas No. 1 in New Zealand with his children’s book Code Name Bananas. Set in World War II, it follows the adventures of a boy who brings a gorilla out of captivity with the help of his zookeeper uncle.


Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other was also on Nielsen’s UK bestseller list in 2020 – and won the Booker Prize in 2019. It shines a light on the experiences of black women in Great Britain. Brittany, through 12 interconnected stories.


Our bookworms from the World Economic Forum Book Club also shared their favorite reads from last year, including bestselling Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, and Caste: The Origins Of Our Discontents Isabel Wilkerson.