Bookshops and booksellers across the UK have reported a huge boost in sales since lockdown restrictions have eased and shoppers have returned to the high streets. A large number of high profile releases have been published, including Christmas titles and books from Richard Osman, Elena Ferrante, and Raynor Winn, all of which have made the first week of September 2020 the best for UK book sales since records began. Sales were no doubt aided by the whopping 590 books that were released earlier this month on 3rd September, which has since become known as ‘Super Thursday’. That Thursday saw the release of many high profile books that had been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As The Guardian reports, it has been the best first week of September on record for book sales, with the book market earning 33.6 million from the 1st to the 5th, an increase of 11.1 percent from the previous week of sales. While strict social distancing rulers have remained in effect, and with plenty of face masks being worn, shoppers have been undeterred from returning to physical shops since they opened up their doors in June. The first week saw 3.8m physical books sold, for a profit £33m, an increase of 31 percent when compared with the same week of 2019. Just two months after shops reopened, sales of print books had increased by 9% in volume and 11% in value compared to the previous year, as reported by The Bookseller.
TV presenter Richard Osman has topped the charts with his novel The Thursday Murder Club, which sold over 45,000 copies in a mere three days, making it the fastest-selling debut crime novel, as well as the second fastest-selling debut adult novel since Nielsen BookScan’s records began. “We haven’t seen anything like it since Harry Potter,” said Pat Booth of Plackitt & Booth Bookshop in Lytham St Anne’s, Lancashire. Osman, who has since sold two more books in the series to his publisher Viking, said he was “overwhelmed by the reaction to The Thursday Murder Club, and am so delighted that readers are taking it to their hearts”.
Booksellers are no doubt looking forward to the second ‘Super Thursday’ of the year, which will see 790 new books released on 1st October. Kate McHale of Waterstones has stated that, rather than feeling overwhelmed, booksellers are enjoying the surge of new titles, and that sales for the company have been very good.
“There were a lot out last week, but there’d been so much anticipation, so much buildup to some of the books, particularly those that had been pushed back, that we were all really looking forward to it. When you open those boxes in store and see the big new titles come in, that’s quite a buzz,” she said.
Waterstones has reported particularly strong sales for the likes of The Secret Barrister’s Fake Law, James Rebanks’s English Pastoral, and Raynor Winn’s The Wild Silence. Elaine Nelson at Sam Read Bookseller in Grasmere, Cumbria said: “Rebanks lives about half an hour away from us and has been a big supporter of the shop, so we had over 350 pre-orders for English Pastoral – it’s been huge for us. The shop’s been busy, but we’re only open in the afternoons and have a maximum of two people in at a time to meet restrictions, so that does restrict face-to-face sales.”
Matt Taylor, the owner of Chepstow Books, reported that the first week of September has been the busiest since Christmas of last year, also noting the interest in Osman’s new novel, as well as What Is Life? by Nobel prize winner Paul Nurse. “Super Thursday was brilliant for us. I’d say really it was the Thursday to Sunday, as the publicity on the Thursday drew people into the shop over the weekend with the buzz,” he said.
Despite the restrictions, he explained how things are steadily getting better. “Things are improving each week. Our age demographic is changing as a lot of locals previously commuted to Bristol or Cardiff but are now walking into town for a lunchtime break. Also, UK holidaymakers are out making the most of the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean,” he said. “We are just into Wales so masks aren’t compulsory but over half are wearing them. Social distancing takes place inside, we ask people to hand sanitise and we limit browsing time to 15 minutes which can be a struggle. Bookshop customers are, in virtually every circumstance, societal role models.”
It looks like this is just the beginning for booksellers, as several big titles are still to hit shelves, including Philip Pullman’s Serpentine and JK Rowling’s The Ickabog. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There’s some really, really big books still to come,” said McChale, “But I think people have been glad to get back into bookshops. They’re a very comforting space for a lot of people, and just being able to come back in and browse and pick up their favourites means a lot.”