Coronavirus: Book sales surge as readers seek escapism and education

Woman reading a book on the London Underground`Image source, Getty Images

People in the UK were stockpiling novels and home learning books last week as they prepared for a spell in isolation, sales figures suggest.

Sales of fiction rose by a third, while children's education went up 234% to the third highest level on record.

Puzzle books, handicrafts and true crime also saw sharp rises.

"The sales data suggests that the UK population has indeed been preparing for long periods of isolation," said Nielsen Book, which keeps track.

"We've seen significant jumps in sales of puzzle books, adult colouring titles, home-learning titles for children, study guides, and we have seen been a big increase in sales of paperback novels."

The rise for paperbacks may have been down to an increased footfall in supermarkets, Nielsen said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light was the UK's bestseller last week

But physical book sales may now plummet after the public were told only to shop for essentials when necessary. Book chains like Waterstones have shut their doors.

Readers are turning online, with Waterstones seeing its online sales rise by 400% week on week.

It reported a "significant uplift" for classic titles like Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, Toni Morrison's Beloved, F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.

Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light was the UK's number one book overall for the third week in a row.

"Our bestseller is Hilary Mantel - those 900 pages aren't going to seem daunting any more and it's doing really well," Waterstones fiction buyer Bea Carvalho told The Guardian.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
David Walliams is releasing a free audio story every day

Meanwhile, many authors are finding ways to reach readers - and audiobook listeners - as people look for ways to fill their time.

David Walliams - whose new book Slime is published on 2 April - is releasing a free audio story from his World's Worst Children series every day for a month.

"Those stuck at home with their kids may be able to relate to The World's Worst Children," he joked on Twitter.

Cressida Cowell is reading a chapter of How To Train Your Dragon to children on the BookTrust HomeTime's virtual hub.

JK Rowling has relaxed copyright restrictions to allow teachers to post videos of themselves reading her Harry Potter novels to children who are stuck at home.

Illustrator Oliver Jeffers is doing a daily #StayAtHomeStoryTime on Instagram.

More than 110 free Sesame Street ebooks are available - along with virtual Elmo hugs and other resources from the children's show.