How has the pandemic impacted the publishing industry?

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The times we live in are difficult, frightening and uncertain. We watch the news religiously, waiting to find out what freedom will be taken away from us tomorrow. Do we need to wear masks outdoors or just indoors? Do we work from home or do we go to the office? Can we eat at restaurants or should we order takeaway? Will we be able to travel and see the family we left behind or do we have to continue missing them? And if we can travel, do we have to quarantine once we get there? And if we do, how long do we have to be isolated for? The questions are endless and the panic only grows.

People all over the world are preparing for (or are currently in) a second lockdown. Restaurants, shops, and borders are gradually shutting internationally. Businesses that had a momentary glimpse of hope during the summer months are once again overwhelmed by difficulties, worries, debt and losses. Prior to the reintroduction of lockdown measures, the pandemic had already caused distressing and alarming economic damage. Taking this further, the World Bank explains that COVID-19 has generated ‘the largest economic shock the world has experienced in decades’. What is worse, it is expected that the pandemic will plunge the global economy into the worst recession since the Second World War.

While the lockdown and social distancing measures have had a horrific impact on numerous sectors of the economy, the publishing industry has surprisingly seen a rise in profits. Isolated, lonely, frightened, and consumed by uncertainty, people have rediscovered the pleasures of reading. It is true that the majority of people most likely turned to TV shows, films, and documentaries before turning to literature. Nevertheless, this does not undermine the importance of this rediscovery.

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Statistics and figures given by Bloomsbury and Penguin Random House illustrate a surprising surge in sales and profits. According to the BBC, Bloomsbury has reported “its best half-year profits since 2008.” That is, from February to August of this year, Bloomsbury’s profits have increased by an astonishing 60%. In addition to this, the sale of e-books and online books has also been “significantly higher”.

Nigel Newton, founder and chief executive of Bloomsbury, claimed that the results “exceeded the board’s expectations”. Furthermore, according to the Financial Times, Newton explained that the demand for books had begun to pick up “as people became fed up with watching streamed television programmes that never end.”

Similarly, Penguin Random House also saw a surge in book sales and profits. More specifically, it found that the sales of classic novels increased drastically. According to the Guardian:

  • War and Peace (1440 pages) had a 69% increase in sales.
  • Don Quixote (1056 pages) had a 53% increase in sales.
  • Anna Karenina (865 pages) had a 52% increase in sales.
  • Middlemarch (880 pages) had a 40% increase in sales.
  • Crime and Punishment (729 pages) had a 35% increase in sales.

Jess Harrison, the editorial director of Penguin Classics, noted her surprise as she said: “We were expecting possibly to see a spike in comfort reads, like cosy crime or light comic novels. Instead it seems that readers have been inspired in lockdown to tackle the great literary monuments – the books that maybe they’d always intended to read, but never before now had the time to embark on.”

Now that we are once again facing social distancing measures, travel restrictions, and lockdowns, a lengthy novel can help save us. A powerful, gripping work of literature has the power to transport you through time, offer you comfort, and combat your loneliness. Moreover, it does not only provide an escape but it also teaches and enriches you. When you think about everything a book can offer, it is not difficult to understand why people have turned to literature during these frightening times.

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