Book sales up sharply during the pandemic
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there are spheres of the economy that are doing much better than others. Health restrictions and confinement periods have not dampened the appeal of the books. Many readers seem to have found escape and comfort there, since book sales exploded by 16.3% in 2021 among Quebec booksellers, after a 4.6% increase in 2020.
This provincial phenomenon, valid for French-language literature, is also confirmed very well locally. Booksellers interviewed in Sainte-Foy and Sillery confirm the surge in figures recorded at the checkout. However, they show modest enthusiasm and refuse to show off out of respect for the cultural community in general, which has suffered a lot since the arrival of Covid-19.
“We are an exception among culture broadcasters who cannot complain about the effects of the pandemic. While restaurants and theaters were closed, people took refuge in the pleasure of reading. During their walks, a rare activity allowed at the height of the crisis, they also seem to have rediscovered their small neighborhood shops, ”says Marie-Hélène Vaugeois, co-owner of the Vaugeois bookstore on Maguire Avenue.about:blank
The Quebec book market in figures. Table courtesy of ALQ
This exceptional year for books can be explained in large part by calls for buying local to preserve the economy. “We felt it with many customers. It was important for them to help maintain local businesses and services. There was also a great interest in having fun, but also understanding and going back to basics,” says Éléna Laliberté, director of the bookstore La Liberté de la route de l’Église.
Certainly, this has favored Quebec novels and children's books to satisfy parents and children in their passion. The boom has also had a positive impact on other categories, such as essays, fiction and documentaries, as well as historical, scientific and practical books. Often, the book came to support a new hobby, whether for cooking, DIY or gardening. In fact, the only sector that underperformed was inevitably travel guide.
The generalized enthusiasm for the book over the past two years has been less evident on the side of the Coop Zone at Université Laval. “We are following the trend more modestly in 2021 with an appreciation of 5 to 6% in traditional literature. However, the fact that the campus was closed for long periods of time greatly reduced store traffic,” says its general manager Éric Fong.
With regard specifically to the school book, the trend shows a gradual and constant decline. So while course grades go up about 3%, textbooks go down almost 6%. Fong sees three main reasons for this: distance learning, dropouts without penalty and lead times.
Hope for the future
For 2022, the experts are realistic and anticipate reaching a plateau in sales growth. Especially since people have stocked up on books. “Nevertheless, good habits have been created or rediscovered, which should ensure a certain consistency,” says Ms. Laliberté. “We must also consider that while new readers have revealed themselves, oddly great readers have become less present. Their return is expected with the deconfinement,” adds Ms. Vaugeois.
In short, there is hope for Quebec authors, publishers and booksellers.
Book sales by category in 2021
- Literature (novels) +21.3%
- Youth (miscellaneous) +15.2%
- Quebec publishers +18.3%
While many leisure activities have been banned or restricted, books have grown in popularity as a means of escape or rejuvenation. Photo Metro Media archives