The Quarantine Reading Renaissance

Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash

Quarantine has disrupted our lives in many ways to the point where it seems as though we’ve entered the predicted “new normal” phase.

One thing that book lovers, me included, have done to deal with this is to turn to our beloved books from treasured favourites to newly discovered tales – whether fictional or not – to finally tackling the ever-growing pile of To Be Read (or TBR if you want to be ‘in’ with the lingo).

Interestingly, it seems that we’re not the only ones seeking this form of hallucinogenic escape (I mean, what is reading if not staring at inky squibbles that your mind vividly brings to life?)

Reading communities around the world has seen a surge in members. In the UK, 31% of people are reading more since lockdown restrictions were imposed according to a survey by The Reading Agency. In France, 42% of people surveyed by statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, have stated that they are reading more now than prior to the pandemic. Another study by statista highlighted that internationally, people are reading 35% more whether with physical books or audio books.

For example, Waterstones, a leading British retailer, has reported a 400% increase in online book sales week-on-week in lockdown, despite having closed its 280 branches.

This brings us to the next question: print, e-book, or audio book?

Personally, I prefer physical books but have enjoyed audio books while commuting to and from work (pre-pandemic, mind you). There’s something comforting about feeling a book between my hands and the sound of pages rustling.

However, there is one audio book that I quite enjoyed while being stuck at home and highly recommend – The Mystwick School of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury that features performances by the NJSO Youth Orchestras that really bring the story to life. It reminded me of the Harry Potter series (which I really enjoy) but my reading experience of each is different: I prefer reading Harry Potter compared to the audio books and after listening to the Mystwick audio book, I don’t think that I’d enjoy in a written version.

Since it’s near-impossible or impossible to get to bookstores or libraries and book retailers are struggling with filling online orders, people are shifting towards more audio and e-book choices.

Publishers and retailers around the world have highlighted this trend. In an article by Publishers Weekly, Michael Tamblyn, CEO of Rakuten Kobo, an ebook and audiobook retailer, noted that that they’ve experienced a sharp rise in new account sign-ups and purchases. Kevin Tumlinson, Director of Marketing and PR at Draft2Digital, an e-book distributor for self-published authors, reported increased e-book purchases across all platforms – 25% increase for retailers and 130% for libraries.

In India, there was a surge in new sign ups for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited while Amazon Prime members took advantage of their access to free e-books, according to Amol Gurwara, Country Manager, Kindle Content India – Amazon.

It’s not just retailers; in the USA, 74% of libraries within the Public Library Association have expanded their online e-book and audio streaming services as a response to the increased demand within their communities.

Naturally, this means that retailers, publishers, and distributors are tapping into this growing marketing segment, such as independent publisher DartFrog Books offering free downloads of a range of books for readers of all ages.

There are even a slew of articles about reading: what to read, resources, upcoming releases, and more. Mashable offer some interesting speed reading resources for those that are as busy, if not more, during quarantine but still want to squeeze in some reading whenever possible.

One thing that quarantine life hasn’t impacted is the importance of connectivity (though some might have enough connectivity to last them a good while post-pandemic).

That has translated into a surge of online book clubs from your friendly neighbourhood club, the one where you get together with friends mainly to catch up, celebrity-based ones, and even bookstore or festival based clubs. It’s cathartic to have a shared experience that’s positive for once and one where you can make friends and connect with people around the world.

It’ll be interesting to see whether these will last post-pandemic.

It’s not all rosy though. Many are struggling with being able to read, despite their best intentions or desires. According to psychologists, this is due to a number of factors from the exhaustion of our current reality to our prolonged exposure to screens and how this impacts our brain’s ability to process information.

Regardless of where you are emotionally, mentally, and even physically, I hope that you’ll be able to find solace through escaping into a good story, regardless of format or genre.

Stay safe. Stay strong.

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