What Will Reading Habits Look Like In A Post-Pandemic World?
It is no surprise that the pandemic has negatively affected several industries including the traditional publishing industry. Owing to the lockdowns and travel bans, production of hardcopy books have taken a hit. However, even with the industry suffering, readership is flourishing. Majority of the people have finally picked up that book that they have been procrastinating to read. When the world is hit with a pandemic, it will react in its own way with changing human behaviour. Through the course of this blog, we will explore some behavioural changes in reading habits that are already happening and will continue in readers in a post-pandemic world.
The digital age!
We are already in the information age but with every passing year, we are diving deeper into it. This holds true even for the reading community, especially during these times of COVID. According to a survey conducted by Nielsen Book India study—Impact of COVID-19 on the India Book Consumer (provided to only Publishing Perspectives), reading and audiobook listening has increased to an average of 16 hours per week from 7 hours per week. The report also stated that one in two respondents of the survey spent more time on digital reading/listening platforms. Additionally, Book Publishers Global Market Report 2020-30: COVID-19 Impact and Recovery stated that “The rise in social media and the increasing volume of consumer data is driving growth and innovation in the book publishers industry. Book publishers can have broad and deep visibility into their consumers, distributors, and other stakeholder data. Publishers with a digital-first model are investing significantly in building in-house data and analytics team.”
One major reason for the above-mentioned data is the nature of the virus. Social distancing and avoiding physical contact are the main two things that everyone is focusing on. In such a scenario, the majority of the individuals are preferring the digital consumption of books instead of physical copies to avoid contact. According to several surveys, this trend is going to persist even in a post-pandemic world. People have already become comfortable with this mode of consuming data and are slowly getting hooked on the ease of it. According to Scroll, “At present, the Indian trade book market (excluding educational titles) is estimated to be anywhere between $ 500 million and $ 1 billion. In the US, the revenue from audiobooks is almost 10 percent of that of printed books.” The article also informs the reader that, “Globally, the audiobook market is estimated at $4 billion in 2020, and is expected to grow to $20 billion by 2030.” Even though there is no ultimate research that confirms that the reading habits trend will continue in a post-pandemic world, the current numbers look very much in favor.
What are people reading?
The pandemic season has also observed some specific reading habits in consumers. According to a survey conducted by Teads on ‘What are consumers reading during the COVID-19 outbreak in India?,’ the most popular genres are Health & Wellness, Policymakers & Institutions, Food recipes, Religion and Music. Topics like ‘fitness’ and ‘self-care’ have been trending in the lockdown era. Furthermore, according to renowned Psychiatrist Dr Shyam Bhat who spoke to Scroll, “Readers may also turn to fiction for respite from the incessant stress of COVID, or to process the fears and anxieties evoked by the pandemic. Themes that resonate particularly with the reader during this time include dealing with isolation and loneliness, global catastrophes, and fantasy fiction with a completely different, self-contained universe into which the reader can escape.”
The Washington Post collected data from publishers, libraries, associations, data firms and readers on their website to study the book trends during the spring and summer of 2020. The survey was conducted in early May and mid-August with over 1600 submissions. It was noted that people were consuming non-fiction titles like Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist,” Carol Anderson’s “White Rage,” Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” and Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want to Talk About Race.” It was also noted that, “Through March, three of the top 12 categories for book sales were aimed at children, according to data from NPD Group, a market research company that tracks book-buying trends. From March through May, as the pandemic kept schools closed, that trend increased dramatically, with half of the 12 top-selling categories catering to kids, including three categories of juvenile nonfiction.” Niti Kumar, senior vice-president, marketing, digital and communications at Penguin Random House India, told Huffpost “We identified what people are searching for and what kind of genres people are picking up. We saw, for example, lots of conversations happening around books related to spirituality, mind and body, and fitness. So we started promoting a lot of that using our digital channels, authors, and partners.”
Some predictions for the future…
There are various expectations from the post-pandemic era. During the lockdown era, it was observed that many people turned towards wellness and fitness. People have become much more self-aware and are taking out time for self-care. Many readers are actively seeking content on mental-health and spirituality. This makes sense given that the world currently is experiencing collective trauma because of the pandemic and several other issues that have followed. Similarly, non-fiction space may also witness several new topics inspired by the current pandemic. This trend is already visible on social media with people creating content catering to the quarantine lifestyle.
Audiobooks have been around for a while now, however, they never carried the revenue. The audiobook segment has always experienced a low demand as compared to other mediums of book. Publishers had assumed that the industry will further decline given the pandemic. To everyone’s surprise, the audiobook trend actually picked up during the pandemic. There was a higher demand with a wider and newer audience getting engaged. Penguin’s Niti Kumar told Huffpost, “Initially we had thought that audiobooks might decline a little because there was a lot of commute consumption there, but we have actually seen huge uptake on audio in the month of March. The trends show audiobooks almost doubling.” According to the same article by Huffpost, “Storytel (a platform that offers over 1,00,000 audiobooks) saw more than double the numbers of customers coming to the service in the last two weeks of March when people had started isolating at home.” It is a reasonable prediction to see this trend persist in a post-pandemic world. This is a legitimate assumption to make since people have already developed reading habits of listening to audiobooks. A similar trend can be seen with podcasts. More and more people are getting hooked into the idea of consuming information through listening. Content creators as well as publishers are exploring the podcasts as viable mediums to disseminate information. Irrespective of the fact whether the individual is a reader or not, the pandemic has made everyone pay extra attention to details and news. People who do not necessarily enjoy reading, are actively seeking new resources for entertainment and education. The substantial increase in this human behaviour plays in favour of the podcasts and audiobooks industry.
In the coming few years, we may also expect a documented account of the COVID era. The writing sphere could witness a rise in new authors with diverse ideas given that the lockdown period was a time of self-discovery for many. We can find comfort in the fact that, no matter what happens to the world tomorrow, reading and writing will never change. It may go through reading habits, changes, and stages, but it will always flourish.
Human beings have always found comfort in words. The pandemic world has witnessed both readers and non-readers taking an active interest in consuming literature which will definitely contribute towards a more educated and learned future. Having said that, here is hoping that the post-pandemic world is a conducive society for both the readers and the authors.