Home Features Book sales in Ireland slump €3m as lockdown bites

Book sales in Ireland slump €3m as lockdown bites

Article by Philip Stone, Nielsen Book International.

Spending on printed books in Ireland has slumped by €3m during the lockdown, Nielsen Book Research data reveals. Data from Nielsen’s Irish Consumer Market panel of national booksellers reveals that €13.7m has been spent on books in Ireland since all but non-essential retail outlets closed on 24th March—down 19%, or €3m, compared to the same period last year. Volume sales are down by 200k copies, or 17%, from 1.4m sales to 1.2m.

Nielsen BookScan ICM: sales to the week ending 23rd May 2020 (blue and red) versus the comparative period in 2019 (grey). Weeks 13–21 represent the lockdown period.

In terms of overall spend, the ‘Crime, Thriller and Adventure’ sub-genre has been the hardest hit, with sales falling by €360k year on year, or 28%. ‘Children’s Fiction’ sales have also fallen by more than €300k during lockdown, declining 18% year on year, to €1.5m. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the severe damage caused to the travel sector by the coronavirus outbreak, sales of travel guides have plummeted by 88% year on year. Spending on travel guides during the nine-week period from Sunday 22 March to Saturday 23 May totalled just €30k—down from €260k during the comparative period in 2019.

Overall, ‘Adult Fiction’ sales during lockdown have fallen 18% year on year to €3.7m, with ‘Adult Non-Fiction’ spending down 21% to €6.5m. The value of the children’s market, meanwhile, has fallen 14% to €3.4m. Some genres, however, have managed to buck the downward trend.

Boosted by sales of adult colouring books, the size of the ‘Handicrafts, Arts and Crafts’ sector has rocketed by 84% during lockdown. Spending has increased from €98k to €179k year on year. As homeschooling has become the ‘new normal’, the ‘Reference and Home Learning’ sector has also received a substantial boost, with sales up 77% to €148k year on year.

Other sub-genres within the book market to see their sales rise year on year during the nine-week lockdown period thus far include: ‘Money and Consumer Issues’ (+134%), ‘Puzzles’ (+58%) and ‘Hobbies, Pastimes and Indoor Games’ (+71%). Meanwhile, spending on books within the ‘Food and Drink’ sector have also risen during lockdown—by 4% to €740k—helped by the success of Gina and Karol Daly’s The Daly Dish.

The Instagram stars’ cookbook, which became one of the fastest-selling books upon release since records began, sits in third position in a list of the bestselling books in Ireland during lockdown (see below), with sales of 9,200 copies. Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing sits one place ahead of The Daly Dish, with sales of 10,400 copies, while Sally Rooney’s Normal People has proved the runaway lockdown bestseller with sales of 16,765 units. David Walliams’s Slime has proved the bestselling children’s book during lockdown, selling 8,226 copies across its paperback and hardback editions.

Bestselling books during lockdown: nine-week period ending 23 May 2020.

Green shoots

With COVID-19 taking a €3.1m bite out of the Irish consumer book market, year-to-date sales are unsurprisingly below the levels of last year—down 3% (€1.2m) to €39.4m. But there are reasons to be optimistic. Spending on printed books in Ireland has been above the levels of 2019 during the past fortnight, with sales during the two-week period until 23 May up 10%, or €300k, versus 2019.

Generally, the trend has been one of improvement since the initial weeks of lockdown, as the public have gotten used to a ‘new normal’. Spending on printed books in the week ending 16 May, for example, totalled €2m—up 133% on the low of the week ending 4 April when just €875k was spent on books.

Nielsen BookScan ICM: weekly sales by value, to the week ending 23 May 2020 (week 21). Lockdown began during week 13 (ending 28 March 2020).


Philip Stone is an analyst at Nielsen Book. He has worked in the UK book industry for more than twenty years.