What do US readers turn to in times of COVID-19? The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (and others)

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, ill. by David Wyatt (c) HarperCollins et al.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, ill. by David Wyatt (c) HarperCollins et al.

A press release by the NPD Group, a US-American market research company, sums up the information on the e-book market in the United States for the month of April 2020, the first month the consequences of COVID-19 were fully felt, and what part The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien played.

According to a July 21, 2020, press release NPD Group noted that people increasingly turned to e-books in times of social isolation and the necessity to stay at home.

Traditionally published e-book sales volume, tracked by NPD PubTrack Digital, declined 6 percent in the first half of the year. However, looking only at the month of April— the first full month of COVID-19 lockdowns in the U.S.—e-books were up 31 percent compared to March, selling 4.2 million more units.

Although e-book sales never managed to become the saviour to the publishing industry many would have liked them to be, looking at April alone in comparison to the month or the year before showed that readers appreciated the ease of buying a book without having to go to a store or wait for delivery in a much-taxed logistics’ system.

I noted several occasions on social media where parents with an interest in fantasy literature shared their frustrations of coping with an everyday life that had to abruptly change – and many of them turning to reading as part of the solution.

So it is not much of a surprise to read this:

Young adult e-book sales grew 10 percent over to 2019, driven largely by double-digit increase in fiction sales. The science fiction category enjoyed the highest unit-sales gain, led by “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins, and “The Hobbit,” by J.R.R. Tolkien. [my emphasis.]

So amid all the negative news some things can still raise a smile.

Marcel R. Bülles

A Tolkien fan for thirty years (and more to come...) Founding chairman of the German Tolkien Society, Co-Founder of Ring*Con, Co-Founder of the ITF, host, presenter and fantasy expert