Covid-19 lockdowns give reading a boost across Europe

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Athens, April 24 : The world has been in pandemic mode for way over a year now, forcing businesses and entertainment venues to close and prompting people stuck in quarantine to revisit old hobbies.

One of the few age-old pastimes that has been left largely untouched by Covid-19 is reading. As people have time on their hands, they turn to books in increasing numbers, as evidenced by surveys and interviews conducted on the eve of World Book and Copyright Day, celebrated annually on April 23, Xinhua news agnecy reported on Friday.

While the traditional book retail industry struggles to survive the recurring lockdowns, the e-book business is well and truly booming in Europe and beyond.

A survey conducted by Nielsen Book in the United Kingdom (UK) in May 2020 has revealed that British people almost doubled the amount of time they spent reading books since the lockdowns began. Forty-one percent of UK adults said they were reading more, and the amount of time spent reading increased from around 3.5 hours per week to six hours on average. Only ten percent of the respondents said they were reading less.

And this phenomenon is far from unique to Europe.

“During the lockdown, loyal readers became more loyal due to the restrictions and the larger amount of time they had,” Nestoras Poulakos, co-owner of Vakxikon Media & Publishing Group in Greece, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Emira Maric-Jasarevic, acting director of Sarajevo Library in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), said that while the pandemic did slightly reduce the number of users, as older people had cut back on their visits, the number of books borrowed was on a slight increase.

“I guess people borrow more books as they have more time to read nowadays, with lockdowns and everything,” she said.

The book industry has also seen people dive into a broader range of books than before.

Booksellers in Barcelona, Spain, said philosophy and novels are favoured by readers there. In Greece, publishers said that books on health and children are the top sellers these days, while readers in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) would opt for books on philosophy, sociology, popular psychology and self-help literature. In the UK, people turn to the “comfort” of crime novels and thrillers, according to surveys and interviews.

“Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the sales of history and philosophy books have increased significantly. Many people expect books to answer their questions,” Anna Hadjimisheva, a bookstore owner in Sofia, Bulgaria, told Xinhua.

A report released a few weeks ago by the Federation of European Publishers on the impact of the pandemic on Europe’s book publishing markets said that across the continent, “children’s book sales performed well, even very well at times… Other segments doing reasonably well in some countries included comics, self-help books, cookbooks and books with educational activities for kids.”

It also said that sales of digital books and audio books increased in almost all countries surveyed.

In Greece, the increased interest in reading online has led to a significant jump in the number of visitors to the Open Library website, which offers over 9,500 Greek e-books as well as 990 audio books. These are freely and legally distributed on the internet, according to the Greek national news agency AMNA.

Thanks to the “Click and Collect” service and the French government’s support policy, Gonzague Steenkiste’s bookstore in Lille, France, registered a healthy turnover for the year 2020. “Many people have adopted the online ordering habit and even though the bookstore has reopened, they still do this and pick up their books on site,” he said.

Joseph Morales, who owns an old bookstore called Saint George in Barcelona, Spain, told Xinhua that people now tend to order books through social networks, but some will still buy directly in bookstores.

But for Eldar Kerken, a 54-year-old book enthusiast who runs one of the two remaining antique bookshops in Sarajevo, BiH, moving the business online is not an option he would consider. He enjoys the interaction with his customers.

Kerken also believes in the value of printed books, saying that they will never be fully replaced by any kind of screen or electronic device, “just as the music on vinyl records has survived the arrival of cassette tapes, CDs and streamed music.”

Kerken said he had no special plans for World Book and Copyright Day as he spent half of his life celebrating books every day anyway.