Penguin’s pandemic year in numbers

The story of an extraordinary year in reading, from lockdown habits to how the books community rallied.

the year in book numbers
Ryan MacEachern / Penguin Books

2020 was an immensely challenging year for all of us, with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting practically every aspect of our lives. The endless rolling news updates and statistics were often head-spinningly hard to make sense of, but looking back at the past year, some numbers tell illuminating and significant stories. Here is a selection specifically from Penguin’s world of books and reading.


Copies of The Plague by Albert Camus sold in 2020

Since the start of lockdown last March, one book has emerged as an indispensable companion to our strange times – Albert Camus’ classic 1947 novel The Plague. The eerily prescient novel is in fact an allegory for life under occupation, but the experiences of the characters and the message of hope in the face of adversity rang just as true over the last year.



Percentage increase in cookbooks sold in 2020

As restaurants, cafés and shops were required to shutter throughout the year, our focus shifted to home cooking and kitchen knowhow. Eating out was… out and recipes were in. Fortunately, there were plenty of chefs, food experts and gourmands to provide inspiration to a hungry public.


‘Read more’ was the UK’s third most popular new year’s resolution

After a year of deferred and cancelled family events and social plans, the UK’s number one new year’s resolution was to ‘see family and friends’. However, we’re all clearly keen to keep good habits picked up in lockdown as ‘read more’ charted at number 3, featuring in the top 10 for the first time ever.



Bookshops in the UK that rely on your support

And how best to stick to that resolution? By shopping in a bricks and mortar bookshop. All going to plan, bookshops across the country will be opening up again next month – make sure that you’re first through the door of your local to stock up on summer reading material!

85th Penguin prints
The Penguin85 Prints. Image: Mica Murphy/Penguin


Artworks inspired by the transformative power of reading

Charlie Mackesy, author of one of the year’s biggest hits The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse, joined Dapo Adeola, Coralie Bickford-Smith, Jackie Morris and Vashti Harrison to raise funds for the National Literacy Trust. The saying goes that a picture paints a thousand words – these ones no doubt inspired people to read thousands more. Keep an eye on the Penguin Shop for similar illustrated initiatives this year.


Percentage increase in foodbank use in 2020

2020 saw the COVID-19 pandemic expose and exacerbate inequalities at the heart of our society, not least with regard to access to books and reading and the advantages that they offer. Penguin donated over 45,000 books to food banks, shelters and community projects and other good causes on the frontline across the UK via our partnership with giving platform Neighbourly.


Pages in War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Community volunteer Sandra, the star of Penguin’s ‘It Begins With A Book’ Christmas advert, credits reading this classic novel with boosting her confidence. The campaign highlighted a collaboration between Penguin, Bookshop.org and Neighbourly. Together, we unlocked thousands of book donations to people who most needed them, as well as supporting independent bookshops across the country, during the festive season.


Percentage of young people who feel unable to cope

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit young people particularly hard this past year. Many have reported feeling anxious and unsure of their future.

Throughout 2020, Penguin Talks livestreamed some of our most exciting and knowledgeable authors directly to thousands of students. In partnership with charity Speakers for Schools, the programme has offered events covering careers, confidence, creativity and more, featuring authors including Elif Shafak, Afua Hirsch, Marlon James and Big Narstie.


Primary school teachers trained to build a culture of reading for pleasure in their school

Our Puffin World of Stories initiative addresses the obstacles to reading for pleasure in UK schools where budget constraints can mean investment in their libraries is difficult or even impossible. Over the past year, we’ve trained 119 primary school teachers to help them build a culture of reading for pleasure in their school.

Reading has also provided an invaluable refuge in this difficult time, supporting children’s mental wellbeing and enabling them to dream about the future. Three in 5 children and young people told us during lockdown that reading makes them feel better and 3 in 10 said that reading helped them when they felt sad when unable to see their family and friends.


What did you think of this article? Email editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk and let us know.

Read our Reasons for Hope essay series which is raising money for the National Literacy Trust to support families affected by Covid-19.

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