Book Sales Reach All Time High Due to Lockdown and TikTok

Lockdown and TikTok drive all time high book sales for UK publishers, totalling £6.7 billion in 2021.

There has been a steady upward trend for book sales in recent years. Though the combination of a world-wide pandemic and social media interest has caused sales to soar.

Linda Murray, co-owner of independent Belfast bookshop, Books Paper Scissors, shared the experience they’ve witnessed in the past year.

Murray spoke of customers visiting the store after lockdown-enforced closures. Murray said, “they were sighing with joy as they walked back into the shop.”

Speaking of the rise in physical book purchases, Murray said, “I feel like within the Belfast area, our share of sales has probably increased.” She added, “people are valuing their neighbourhood shops a little more than they were before the pandemic.”

With lockdowns, many people turned to social media app TikTok to share their book opinions. This part of the app has been christened ‘BookTok’ by users.

Murray correlates this trend with the sales rise. She said, “I have noticed a huge increase as a direct result of TikTok and BookTok.”

Murray notices the trend with young women specifically, adding “predominantly girls who maybe have fallen out of reading as younger, young teens… it has absolutely brought so many older teens and young adults back into reading”.

Book sales rose 5% between 2020 and last year, while the rise from 2019 to 2020 had been just 2%. Murray said, “the reactions that people gave to me as they walked through the door… tell me that people are very happy to be back browsing books.”

Even with the rise in digital media, Murray finds “millennials and gen-z appear to have an interest in physical media, even though they have access to digital versions like e-books and audio books.”

Though, as we leave pandemic-era life behind, Murray is prepared for a dip in sales. She said, “TikTok is such a fast medium, and I have no doubt that they will move on to another thing. Now that people are back out in the open, there’s already a slight dip.”

Murray remains hopeful that sales won’t drop to pre-pandemic levels, “it might drop off again, but hopefully not back to the level that it was at before.” Murray added, “I think they have realised the value of talking about a book as a social exercise, and that’s a great thing.”

Another reason for the rising interest in books may be due to the resurgence of bookclubs. Many met on video calls while locked-down at home, and following lockdowns, groups now meet in person to capitalise on opportunities to socialise.

Lucy Shields has launched a Belfast book-club post-lockdown. Shields meets the club at fast-food restaurants, where they share notes they’ve jotted down in their paperbacks.

Shields attributes her recent interest in books to lockdown. She said, “I was planning on reading 30 books during the pandemic, and then I ended up reading over 50”.

Explaining why she favours physical books over digital versions, Shields says, “I just think you’re so much more likely to read it if you get a physical copy.”

Shields is amazed at how much of an impact the pandemic has had on book sales. She said, “You would never have gone ‘Oh, well, that’ll be great for books.’ I think anybody that was able to to predict that would be a genius.”

Following the social media book trend, Shields believes it will have a lasting impact on book sales. She said it’s “good to know that at least those people who are reading, will then have this memory of something to keep them being readers.” Shields added, “it’s the Harry Potter effect.”

In her teenage years, Shields was an avid reader and believes that has been rekindled during the pandemic. Shields said, “I’m sure I probably read because I have memories of being a teenager and reading things. It’s just like any hobby. It’s like something you enjoy because you have that reason.”

Shields now thinks BookTok will be ‘that reason’ for the next generation. Shields said, “I think that probably ensures that it’s gonna be another generation of people who will read.”

With the pandemic having led to a surge in book sales, which in turn spurred on the creation of book clubs, Shields believes book sales will remain high. She said, “I think if you’re in a book club, you probably are more likely to buy a book.”

The reason Shields decided to start a book club post-pandemic was to share her interests with others that also developed an interest over lockdown. Shields said, “I just think it’s so rare that you actually meet someone who really, like, really loves books.”

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