U.S. book sales soar in 2020; Reno a mixed bag

Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt said the Reno location has seen “very strong” sales through-out the pandemic.

Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt said the Reno location has seen “very strong” sales through-out the pandemic. Photo: Jon Enoch

When the coronavirus pandemic slammed the United States shut last March, people were stuck at home with more time on their hands than ever.

Plans to go out to eat, see a movie or rock out at a concert were suddenly shelved indefinitely. And to break up the phone, Zoom and Netflix time, Americans have picked up or rediscovered an array of screen-free hobbies.

One of those is reading.

Last year marked the best year for print book sales since 2010 as the COVID-19 shutdowns turned Americans — especially young people — into readers again, according to market research firm NPD Group.

All told, print sales by units rose 8.2% in 2020 to reach 751 million units. Every category posted gains, led by juvenile fiction print books, which saw sales rise 11%.

Adult non-fiction, the largest category of books in the U.S. by both volume and sales revenue, saw a 4.8% uptick, per the NPD Group.

Still, 2020 was a challenging year for national book sellers and independent bookstores, which were forced to close up shop for months to comply with local lockdown orders.

Some transformed their stores into fulfillment centers for online orders. Others, like Grassroots Books in Reno,
thought outside the box by literally adding a shopping area outside.

It ended up being a move that owner Zoe Miller said helped the store’s sales in 2020 drop only 15% overall, despite its business plummeting 61% in Q2 when it was closed to foot traffic.

So far in Q1 of 2021, the store is down just 7%, she noted.

“Our focus last year was on survival as a business as a growing concern,” Miller said. “This year, I want to try to figure out how to sell more books, how to be more important to our community, and how to get bigger. I don’t know how to do that yet.

“But it seems like this might be a unique time and we could grow pretty dramatically. We’ve got so much customer love and libraries are still closed.”

Along with its top-selling categories of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books, Grassroots has seen a lot of people buy books for educational purposes during the pandemic, Miller said.

“People are buying books to learn things,” she said. “We’ve sold a lot of books about growing food, about wilderness medicine, about survival and foraging food. And a lot of new gun owners bought books about how to be responsible with a firearm.”


Barnes & Noble in Reno, meanwhile, has seen its sales remain “very strong” throughout the pandemic, James Daunt, the company’s CEO, told the NNBW.

“Reno is one of the busiest of the Barnes & Noble bookstores,” said Daunt, noting it is also one of the company’s largest stores at over 30,000 square feet.

Barnes & Noble branches located in metropolitan cities are a different story. Daunt said stores in the Bay Area, Boston and New York City, for example, are “significantly down” in sales.

“New York City was 80% down,” he said. “It’s improved to about 50% down now, but that’s obviously still dramatically down.”

But, the company’s stores outside of metro areas, like Reno, have been making up for that. Though he did not provide specific sales figures for 2020, Daunt said he expects annual sales at the Reno Barnes & Noble to return to nearly $10 million in 2021 as shopping patterns return to normal.

What’s more, Daunt said the company’s e-commerce sales in every state have increased as more Americans shift to online shopping.

In its brick-and-mortars, meanwhile, Daunt said Barnes & Noble has worked hard to make its stores “much more open” and “more attractive” for consumers.

“I knew that when we reopened, people would want to come back into the stores,” he explained. “And we wanted to get the stores looking better. Overall, we’ve got much better bookstores than we did a year ago.

“And I think the industry outlook is fantastic because we’ve got this really strong underlying and renewed demand.”


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