The publishing industry experienced slight growth in the year 2019. According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), it grew 1.8% to become a $14.767 billion industry. The e-book category continued on a downward trend, but physical books and audiobooks were doing well in the market.
When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic restricted people to their homes, people responded by consuming more content than before. Whether it’s through videos, articles, or books, there was an eagerness to discover new, engaging content that induces enjoyment.
How have these evolving consumer habits made an impact on the publishing industry? And what will this mean for its future?
The Future Is Digital
Digitization is a trend that COVID-19 only accelerated. Now, there is no looking back.
Increase in Digital Subscriptions and Sales
Newspaper and magazine sales have been declining even before the pandemic. This was only highlighted further during the lockdown period. But on the flip side, there was a spike in subscriptions for their digital counterparts. For example, take The New York Times, which had a record of 2 3 million new digital subscriptions in 2020 alone.
Many magazines have responded to the pandemic by pausing or minimizing print production and pouring their efforts into the digital space. Some launched their own apps, while others began posting exclusive features online ahead of print releases.
It also comes as no surprise that e-books and audiobooks soared in sales in 2020. The AAP notes a 40% increase in revenue for e-books, while audiobooks rose in sales by 22%.
Whatever the medium, readers have been looking to the digital sphere for their regular content needs.
Content that Captures Consumer Interest
While many read more about social issues in the news and books during the pandemic, there was also a rise in escapist and light reading. On the one hand, consumers picked up more crime fiction and sci-fi novels. On the other hand, many craved uplifting material to tide them through the season.
Hobbyist magazines grew in engagement during the pandemic. From recipes and meal plans to gardening, people sought projects to pour their inordinate amount of free time on.
Those looking for celebratory and culturally aware content may also choose, for instance, subscriptions to luxury or lifestyle magazines. These deliver authentic and empowering stories about food, design, and more in Africa. They inspire and inform positively while allowing readers the option to go print or digital as they prefer.
These pandemic reading patterns provide insight into what may stay and what may change when life begins easing into normalcy.
But Physical Books Are Still Booming
There is one facet of the publishing industry that seems untouchable no matter the season. Physical books have stayed strong, pre-pandemic and during, as a source of revenue for publishers. In fact, 35% of the whole globe started reading more due to the pandemic.
It is good news that people have not stopped and will likely not stop reading physical books. But while big book stores have flourished thanks to e-commerce, the virus has threatened the resilience of many local book stores in the U.S. These have largely relied on smart social media marketing and a shift to online selling to stay afloat.
Regarding the kinds of books people are purchasing, the pandemic has shown that books that are already popular have been selling more. If a book has louder marketing or is attached to big publisher names, then consumers are more willing to purchase it. The availability of well-known titles can then dictate the survival of smaller book stores.
The Hurdles of Moving Forward
Popular books grew in popularity during the pandemic. Should buying habits remain the same, they will stay big in the market. Strategic marketing leads online customers to bigger titles, which have a guarantee of driving more sales.
The growing preference for online shopping removes the luxury of looking through bookshelves without algorithms guiding the browsing experience. This gives publishers an easier time to market known authors. But at the same time, new authors will have a higher uphill climb to gain a following.
Publishers must keep in mind that it will take new strategies to increase awareness of new titles in a sea of bestsellers. Nurturing the relationship with their audience through social media and branding enables sustained interest and trust in the publisher.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented unprecedented challenges to the publishing industry, but it has also proven that there are numerous opportunities still to thrive. Firstly, investing in digitization is a must going forward, especially for newspapers and magazines. Then, publishers need to understand that good consumer relations and online marketing may be key to success in the post-pandemic era.