Crime fiction boom as book sales rocket past 2019 levels

With bookshops still closed in parts of the UK, sales have surpassed last year’s numbers, with 3.8m print books sold in the last week

Britain’s readers have been emerging from lockdown to restock their bookshelves, with book sales – and particularly crime novels – booming in the three weeks since booksellers were allowed to open their doors.

The print market continued its healthy run since England’s bookshops reopened on 15 June, with 3.8m books sold in the last week, for £32.6m, up from 3.1m (making £26.9m) at the same time last year. This is a 15% increase in value on last week and 21% year-on-year.

Sales in the last three weeks are up 19% on the same period in 2019, according to book sales monitor Nielsen, with almost 11m titles worth £94m sold over the period. Readers have been pouncing on stories of murder and revenge, with nearly 120,000 more crime and thriller books bought in the last two weeks of June, when compared to the same point last year.

The genre became the UK’s most popular over the period, leapfrogging both general and children’s fiction, as readers snapped up titles including Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher thriller Blue Moon, Lisa Jewell’s dark The Family Upstairs and Peter May’s prescient Lockdown.

A Nielsen survey of 1,000 adults found that reading in general grew over lockdown. Before 23 March, UK adults averaged 3.4 hours per week of reading, but by the start of May, they were spending an extra 2.7 hours reading each week. By mid-May, this slipped slightly to an additional 2.5 hours, but remained ahead of pre-lockdown levels.

Although Nielsen is unable to give accurate sales figures for the second quarter of the year – the closure of bookshops in March meant it stopped producing volume figures – it estimates that overall sales dropped 11% by volume year on year over the period, according to The Bookseller. But since shops reopened on 15 June, they have rebounded, with the first week back seeing volume sales up 31% compared to the same period in 2019, and the following week up by 6% year-on-year – “a noteworthy performance”, said Nielsen, as that was the week David Walliams and Tony Ross’s bestseller The World’s Worst Teachers was released in 2019.

Walliams and Ross’s followup The World’s Worst Parents was this week’s overall bestselling book, but black authors continue to dominate the paperback lists. Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other topped the fiction paperback chart, while Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Akala’s Natives took first and second places on the non-fiction paperback chart.

Waterstones’s Kate Skipper said the first weeks back had “gone really well”, with “strong footfall” in the book chain’s local high street and neighbourhood shops, but fewer visits in “the big metropolitan and tourist areas”. Waterstones also reopened its Scottish shops last week.

“We have been really heartened by all the lovely comments from customers who are very happy indeed to be able to visit bookshops once again,” said Skipper. “With pubs and cafes reopening and more and more of our retail neighbours returning to the high street we are confident that we will continue to see some strong book sales in the coming weeks.”

Along with strong sales for Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, Waterstones also noted impressive performances from the novels Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Book sales hit record highs in 2019, but publishers ‘now need help’
Figures for last year show sales of £6.3bn, up 20% on 2015, but the Publishers Association says sector needs government support to weather coronavirus

Alison Flood

21, Jul, 2020 @11:01 PM

Article image
Black British authors top UK book charts in wake of BLM protests
Bernardine Evaristo and Reni Eddo-Lodge take No 1 slots in wake of anti-racist demonstrations, as Waterstones staff ask chain to support cause

Alison Flood

10, Jun, 2020 @1:46 PM

Article image
Book sales surge as self-isolating readers buy ‘bucket list’ novels
Paperback fiction sales rose by 35% last week, with a notable interest in challenging classics

Alison Flood

25, Mar, 2020 @4:24 PM

Article image
Reni Eddo-Lodge polemic tops poll of most influential books by women
Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race beat books by Germaine Greer and Simone de Beauvoir

Alison Flood

27, Apr, 2018 @12:19 PM

Article image
No mystery crime is the biggest-selling genre in books | Sophie Hannah
Sales of crime novels in the UK have soared, overtaking general fiction for the first time. But this thrilling genre can be a comfort, too

Sophie Hannah

12, Apr, 2018 @2:37 PM

Article image
UK book sales in 2021 highest in a decade
Booming appetites for crime, sci-fi and romance drive fiction sales 20% higher than in 2019, with Richard Osman the year’s bestselling author

Alison Flood

11, Jan, 2022 @5:21 PM

Article image
Book sales defy pandemic to hit eight-year high
Despite shops being closed for much of 2020, figures show Britons bought books in volume – although many authors continued to struggle

Alison Flood

25, Jan, 2021 @5:32 PM

Article image
Book sales jump a third in first week of bookshops reopening in England and Wales
Booksellers report giddy customers browsing and smelling books, with 3.7m print books shifted in first week after lockdown

Alison Flood

21, Apr, 2021 @2:30 PM

Article image
Minette Walters announces first book in decade – and retirement from crime fiction
After a 10-year hiatus, the British author, famed for her psychological thrillers, is back with a new book – a historical novel about the Black Death

Danuta Kean

08, May, 2017 @11:02 AM

Article image
Research finds reading books has surged in lockdown
Survey of 1,000 people reports time spent with books has almost doubled, with thrillers and crime the favoured genres

Alison Flood

15, May, 2020 @4:17 PM