Irish booksellers have record year as lockdown helps boost sales

More than 13m books, worth €161.5m, sold in 2020 despite shops being closed for months

The Covid-19 pandemic contributed to a stellar year for the Irish book trade in 2020, with sales and revenue higher than at any time since the days of the Celtic Tiger.

Lockdown helped boost Irish publishers and bookshops to sales of €161.5 million, a figure surpassed only in 2008, and a €14 million increase on revenue in 2019, according to Neilsen BookScan.

Sales are all the more impressive as bookshops, where the bulk of books are still sold, were closed for months last year; April, during the first lockdown, saw the lowest ever recorded book sales for a single week. This was countered by 21 weeks of double-digit percentage increases on the same weeks in 2019, suggesting that customers were buying in bulk when they had a chance.

A total of 13.1 million books were sold in the year as a whole, almost a million more than in 2019, an increase of 7.8 per cent. The average price paid for a printed book went from €12.11 to €12.31, the highest since 2007.


The five top-selling books of 2020 all outsold the top-selling book of 2019. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, written by Charlie Mackesy and published by Ebury Press, was Ireland’s overall bestseller, with 67,926 copies sold, just ahead of Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, which sold 63,200 copies. This compares to the top-selling book in 2019, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris, which sold 41,627 copies that year.

Seven books sold more than 40,000 copies, more than every year apart from 2009.

The top-selling Irish book, at number three, was Champagne Football, by Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan, about John Delaney and the Football Association of Ireland. It sold 49,000 copies.

Old Ireland in Colour, by John Breslin and Sarah-Anne Buckley, sold 48,000, more than any other Irish hardback. It was also the only book to earn more than €1 million in 2020.

Home Stretch, by Graham Norton (46,000), Beyond the Tape, by Marie Cassidy (41,000), Normal People, by Sally Rooney (40,000), Code Name Bananas, by David Walliams (39,000), The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman (34,00), and Guinness World Records 2021 (34,000) made up the top 10.

Books published in Ireland sold 2.3 million copies in total, bringing in €32.1 million in revenue. About a third of sales came from school textbooks and study guides.

The leading six Irish titles were all trade nonfiction, helping that sector to grow 19.9 per cent in value and 11.2 per cent in volume for the year. The largest nonfiction category for Irish books was autobiography.

The same five publishers make up the top of the list as in 2019, with four of those growing their sales in 2020. Penguin Random House increased its share to 20.1 per cent of market value, with growth of 12.5 per cent, followed by Hachette, up 18.9 per cent, growing to 12.5 per cent share, and HarperCollins (now including Egmont), with 8.2 per cent of the market and 7.7 per cent growth.

Gill Group represented 5.8 per cent of the overall consumer market (but 29.1 per cent of books published in Ireland), growing 12.3 per cent compared to 2019. Pan Macmillan followed up on 2019, its highest year on record, with only a minor decline, of 0.4 per cent.

Books published in Ireland sold 2.3 million copies, bringing in €32.1 million. About a third of sales came from school textbooks and study guides. The leading six Irish titles were all nonfiction. The largest nonfiction category for Irish books was autobiography, at more than 80 per cent, led by A Light That Never Goes Out, by Keelin Shanley.

Educational publishers suffered, with Edco, Folens and CJ Fallon down about 20 per cent, while Veritas was down more than 58 per cent. Merrion Press, however, had a stellar year, up more than 300 per cent, largely thanks to the success of Old Ireland in Colour.