Book sales are still on the rise in 2022: Here are 3 reasons why

Stephen O'Brien - Sales Manager, Books, Ovato

Australian book sales have been on the rise since the pandemic hit in 2020.

Though consumers were locked down at home, online book sales flourished — people suddenly had more time to read and turned to books for comfort in a time of uncertainty. Since then, sales have had dips and peaks, but overall, the industry’s value continues to grow from year to year in Australia.

In fact, according to Mark Newman, the managing director of Dymocks, industry sales were up 2 per cent in the first months of 2022, and Ibis World has reported an expected overall growth of 3.4 per cent this year. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a clear effect on the spike in sales, but there are other factors affecting the book industry, with social media platforms powering growth in unexpected ways.

These are the three key reasons book sales are still rising in 2022.

1. The pandemic

According to data from Nielsen BookScan, book sales in Australia grew by 7.8 per cent in 2020, with the total value of sales clocking in at $1.25 billion for the year, compared to $1.14 billion for 2019. Adult fiction grew by 13.6 per cent compared to 2019, and children’s books by 9.6 per cent, while nonfiction grew by 4 per cent. The reason for the bumper sales? The pandemic.

With people living the at-home lifestyle in lockdown, reading became a favourite pastime for many. Almost overnight commutes became non-existent, and spending weekends with friends or family was no longer an option: so, with hours of free time to spare, books became a source of entertainment, escape, and comfort in an uncertain time. However, despite the supply chain issues that have plagued the country since Covid-19 and people returning to their pre-pandemic lives, sales didn’t drop after lockdowns ended.

In fact, in 2021, after lockdowns were lifted, Australian book sales for the week ending 16 October 2021 broke the average Nielsen BookScan weekly sales record for that time of year over the previous decade. Though people had the luxury of time during lockdowns, they were reminded of the simple joy of reading a book; so, even once life returned to normal, they continued to read and relished being able to shop for books in brick-and-mortar stores.

2. Online sales

Online purchases were responsible for the majority of book sales during the pandemic, while non-essential, in-person stores were closed. However, although consumers may still appreciate purchasing in-store now that they’ve reopened, online retailers like Booktopia and Amazon have disrupted the industry for good.

Ibis World reports that online retailers heavily influence the average cost structure of the industry. These large businesses have been able to capitalise on their efficiencies and economies of scale during the rise in online shopping brought on by the pandemic. Consumers are now accustomed to the ease of purchasing whenever and wherever they choose, and they expect the lower prices online stores can offer.

Interestingly, online book sales have increased faster than online retail and the economy overall, and the industry is expected to see continued growth in 2022. Ibis World reports this is due to an increase in internet subscribers and rising discretionary income. They project that these factors will fuel demand for books from the expanded consumer base established during lockdowns.

3. TikTok

TikTok has been a powerful social media force in the world of book sales and is impacting the market in unexpected ways. TikTok users are posting using the hashtag #BookTok; some of the tagged videos receive millions of views, creating surges in the popularity of older books and increasing demand for these titles.

For example, Colleen Hoover’s 2016 novel It Ends With Us and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2017 historical fiction The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo made their way back into the Australian top 10 in 2021 despite being backlist titles. Incredibly, they’re still on the top 10 list in May this year, proving TikTok’s impact on sales is not just a pandemic fad but has permanently changed the book-selling game. This has disrupted the market in a huge way, as publishing houses are finding it hard to predict which books will have a resurgence and how many copies to print.

However, it’s still a positive result — the platform has helped publishers reach a whole new demographic, making books popular again with younger readers, particularly teenage girls. They’re using TikTok to share everything from book reviews and recommendations to their reactions while reading a book. The phenomenon perfectly illustrates how the internet can increase book sales rather than diminish them.

Books are timeless

Regardless of what’s happening in the world, books will continue to be a constant source of comfort and entertainment for all ages. Though our lives are shifting, moving increasingly online, the past two pandemic-fuelled years have proven that books still have a place. And in fact, the industry is benefitting from the digital shift, with TikTok and online bookstores improving sales of physical books.
The reality is that the industry may change, but books in all their forms are timeless — and they’re here to stay.