I know we left 2020 in the dust (not that 2021 is looking all that much better so far), but forget that for a minute—let’s look back at the top titles borrowed from Overdrive and Hoopla in the past year, and see what kinds of trends have emerged in these, dare I say, unprecedented times.
As the outside world closed up, forcing us all to turn inwards, what sort of activities did you find yourself doing? If you found yourself reading a ton more than normal, you’re in good company (conversely, if you found yourself unable to concentrate on books, you are also in good company). While plenty of people found themselves in a reading rut thanks to the existential crises caused by COVID, the general trend of reading during lockdown actually increased overall. A study out of the UK reported an almost doubled rate in reading, from 3.5 hours a week to a reported six. From the same study, “A third said they read more printed books, 18% consumed more e-books, and 9% listened to more audiobooks”. A third of people reading more paper books in a single year is nothing to sneeze at.
But stats like this are actually not surprising; there is historical precedence for this kind of thing. An industry analyst for NDP (a market research firm) notes that historically, book sales are resistant to economic downturn; even the Great Recession of 2008 saw a year-over-year increase in book sales. While on the surface this may come as a shock, it makes sense if you consider books for their personal value rather than just their financial cost. When the going gets rough, as it most certainly did in 2020, people often turn to books not just as a form of entertainment, but also for escapism, distraction, and for mental wellbeing.
And while print books did see an increase in sales (though independent retailers do continue to struggle from the lack of foot traffic—check out this link for ways to support local indie bookstores, and this link for a list of indie Canadian shops), so did e-book sales. Again, this maybe doesn’t sound surprising on the surface, but e-book sales had been on a downward trajectory for the last few years. People just prefer paper! But the lockdown caused not only e-book sales, but also library e-book checkouts to soar. Library visitors may be familiar with Overdrive, one of our main e-book and e-audiobook platforms, which serves 90% of North American libraries. The stats coming out of Overdrive’s 2020 report are remarkable: as of June 2020, e-book usage increased 53% since March, while junior fiction and nonfiction are up a staggering 93% and 122%, respectively.
So what kinds of books are being read, bought, and borrowed from libraries? The trends are more or less the same across print and digital formats, and those trends are: fun junior fiction, popular adult fiction, self-improvement or self-care, thrillers, colouring books, and a whole lot of cooking and gardening books. Does this line up with your quarantine experience? Because it sure aligns with mine! I had a look through the top 100 circulating titles on Overdrive and Hoopla at VPL in 2020, and they just about line up as well, with some notable entries unique to the 2020 climate of upheaval: books like White Fragility and So You Want to Talk About Race made the cut, and I expect these titles and others like Caste and How to be an Antiracist to not only make the cut in 2021, but to place higher on the lists.
Have a look at the top 10 lists below. Were you one of the many who checked out these titles? What were you reading to get through 2020?
Top 10 Titles on Overdrive
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling (e-audiobook)*
- Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell (e-audiobook)
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling (e-book)
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (e-book)
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (e-audiobook)
- Becoming by Michelle Obama (e-audiobook)
- Becoming by Michelle Obama (e-book)
- Big Nate: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? by Lincoln Peirce (e-book)
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (e-book)
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Top 10 Titles on Hoopla
- Wrecking Ball by Jeff Kinney (e-book)
- Atomic Habits: A Summary by James Clear (e-audiobook)**
- The Good Egg by Jory John (e-audiobook)
- Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza (e-audiobook)
- I Need a New Butt! by Dawn McMillan (e-book)
- Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney (e-book)
- 7 Thoughts to Live Your Life by IC Robledo (e-audiobook)
- Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid: Rowley Jefferson’s Journal by Jeff Kinney (e-book)
- The Deep End by Jeff Kinney (e-book)
- Becoming Supernatural by Dr. Joe Dispenza (e-audiobook)
*In April and May, Overdrive promoted #HarryPotterAtHome, offering unlimited access to the first book in the popular series.
**Tricky, tricky! Watch out for those “summary” versions of titles!