Toilet Paper, Hand Sanitizer… oh, and the Latest Bestseller

Want to sell more books during a pandemic? One retail chain had a brilliant idea … stack them next to the toilet paper.

According to Elizabeth A. Harris writing in the New York Times, books sales at big-box retailers jumped 20% when consumers started stocking up on essentials.

“When the coronavirus forced the United States into lockdown this spring, stores like Walmart and Target, which were labeled essential, remained open,” Harris writes. “So when anxious consumers were stocking up on beans and pasta, they were also grabbing workbooks, paperbacks and novels — and the book sales at those stores shot up.”

Dennis Abboud, CEO of book distributor ReaderLink that serves more than 80,000 retail outlets, says sales at his company surged 34% in April compared to last year.

“With the shelter in place, people were looking for things to do,” he said. “Workbooks, activity books and just general reading material saw a big increase.”

Even in stores where books aren’t generally a big part of their businesses, sales went up.

“A spokesman for Rite Aid said that since the beginning of March, the company has seen an increase in book sales generally, as well as in children’s books and puzzles,” Harris continues. “Meijer, a superstore chain based in the Midwest, also saw a ‘strong uptick’ in book sales since the beginning of the pandemic, a spokesman said.”

Of course, the big question is will this nice bump for booksellers and publishers continue? Who knows, but every person who buys a book where they normally wouldn’t have before is a possible habit in the making. At the very least, it supports the fact that people really do love print books (and magazines) and when the time and place are right, they will buy.