Almost 4m books were sold in the UK in the first six days after bookshops reopened last week – a jump of over 30% on the same week last year as desperate readers returned to browse the aisles for the first time in three months.
Bricks and mortar bookshops in England were able to open to shoppers on 15 June for the first time since they closed their doors in March, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the UK’s official sales monitor Nielsen BookScan, which has not been able to report sales figures since 21 March “due to the unprecedented temporary closure of bookshops”, 3.8m print books were sold in the week to 20 June, for a value of £33m. This is up 31% in both volume and value compared to the same week last year, even with bookshops in Scotland and Wales still closed over the period. It is the highest value performance for the year’s 25th week since 2003, when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released, according to the Bookseller.
“Yes, we’re back in business and our lovely customers have come racing back. We think we are probably at about our usual level in terms of sales, but that’s on reduced opening hours and still delivering to many local customers who are shielding or reluctant to venture out,” said James Ashmore at independent bookshop Read, in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire.
“It’s so lovely to see all of our customers as we’ve really missed them, but we’ve also had the chance to meet a lot of customers who used us for the first time during lockdown and have come back to us again now that the shop is open.”
Ashmore said that he and his wife Louise had been “nervous about opening up after so long – but so were the customers. However, a week on and things are much more relaxed – [it] felt like old times today only behind a Perspex screen.”
Booksellers have introduced a range of safety measures for customers, from sanitiser and plastic screens, to quarantining titles for up to 72 hours if they’re handled by readers. At Waterstones in Swansea, staff have been trialling a new look for bookshelves, stocking titles back to front, so that customers can read the blurbs without having to pick them up.
Waterstones’ Kate Skipper said the first week had gone “really well”, with “so many customers delighted to be back in a bookshop”. “The health and safety measures have been working well without taking away the joy of visiting a bookshop,” said Skipper. “We have seen good footfall in local high street and neighbourhood locations, with shopping centre and city centre shops quieter. Footfall still remains lower than before the pandemic as expected.” Waterstones is opening its shops in Wales this week, with high street shops in Scotland to open on 29 June.
Skipper said that the books customers bought in stores over the last week “have been more varied” than those they purchase online, where the chain’s charts are topped by Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and Akala’s Natives.
“It’s been joyous seeing debuts like The Truants by Kate Weinberg soar as we have opened our doors and children’s adventure stories like Wonderscape by Jennifer Bell – not titles that will necessarily pop up on the algorithms but wonderful books – alongside the current crop of bestsellers,” said Skipper. “There has been a huge appetite for recommendations from our booksellers alongside the bestsellers, which is very cheering.”
In Yorkshire, Ashmore said that Girl, Woman, Other had been “flying out the door”, as had Eddo-Lodge’s bestseller, Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish), Layla F Saad’s Me and White Supremacy and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility.
Why I’m No Longer… was number one in the overall book charts for a second week, with sales of 34,215 copies, reported BookScan this afternoon, while Girl, Woman, Other was in third place overall, behind Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. Evaristo’s Booker-winning novel topped the mass market fiction paperback charts with sales of 18,893 copies – the highest paperback fiction sales of the year to date. Both titles have soared up the charts in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, with Eddo-Lodge last week becoming the first black British author ever to top the UK’s overall book charts.
“It’s absurd, it’s exciting, I hope the Guinness Book of World Records send me a plaque but it is mad – especially when you consider the black British authors that have come before,” Eddo-Lodge told the Observer this weekend. “To know there was a surge of people searching out anti-racism books after seeing what was essentially a film of somebody being murdered, I can’t uncouple those two things … The aim of anti-racism work isn’t to make me personally wealthy, and so some of this capital flowing my way will go to donate, to contribute to the cause in some way.”