Impact of COVID-19 on Indian book consumers


The COVID-19 crisis is an unprecedented time, suspending large parts of human normalcy and disrupting global economies, including India’s. The Indian publishing industry has experienced difficult times with the advent of the pandemic. With the ease in the situation, the publishing industry is focused on book sales and preparing for unlock phases by seeking answers which can strategically fortify their business needs. Nielsen Book India has undertaken an initiative to provide meaningful consumer insights to the publishing industry.

Vikrant Mathur

Nielsen Book India has undertaken an initiative to provide meaningful consumer insights to the publishing industry. The research aims to understand book reader’s behaviour and engagement during and after the lockdown.

Nielsen Book conducted an online survey of 1,084 Indian adults (with a ratio of 60:40 female/male) to examine the impact of reading and buying behaviour on leisure books (excluding academic books) in India. The survey was conducted from 14 May to 7 June 2020. It was disseminated to publishers, media companies, etc. and across social media where followers used the snowballing technique to reach other respondents. It should therefore be assumed that the majority of respondents are likely to be keen book readers and buyers as per the methodology used to conduct the survey. The responses from employees working in publishing, book retailing and market research companies are excluded from the study.

“At Nielsen Book we are committed to supporting the publishing industry around the world during these unprecedented times. In India, we have initiated a consumer research study to understand the reading and purchasing habits of book consumers during the pandemic. The study provides a vital understanding of how long people are reading for, their favourite genres and what their preferred formats are (print, e-books and audio books) as well as how they are discovering and buying books and how much they are willing to spend. The findings are extremely valuable to anyone with an interest in the publishing sector, providing insights into the behaviour of the Indian book consumer and helping inform future plans,” said Vikrant Mathur, Director, Nielsen Book Research, India.

Change in time spent reading and other activities

The report shows that two thirds of book readers say they are consuming more books since the pandemic began. Before the pandemic, Indian book readers read books or listened to audio books for an average of nine hours per week. Since the pandemic this has increased by seven more hours a week. Two out of five respondents spend more time reading print books, similarly one in two spend more time reading e-books and one in five listening to audio books.

Formats used for reading/listening

On average, print books accounted for two thirds of book reading before the pandemic and respondents predicted that print books would remain nearly as important even after the pandemic. A marginal improvement was also noticed in the consumption of other formats. Before the pandemic, men tended to spend comparatively more time than women reading print books and listening to audio books while women are shifting slightly towards digital books unlock phases. Across all ages, readers are reading majorly print books while it was noticed that the ?35 years age group (older readers), are marginally consuming more e-books during the unlock phases.

Popular genres during pandemic

Women are more likely than men not to have changed their fiction reading interests since the outbreak of COVID-19, with both sexes more interested in Crime/Thrillers and Literary/Classic Fiction, alongside Historical Fiction (men) and Romance (women). Historical/Political Biographies followed by Self-Help/Personal Development and Self-Study (learning new languages, etc.) are the most popular among non-fiction readers.

Respondents with children aged 0-8 are especially likely to have changed their genre interests when buying for children since the outbreak of COVID-19, with increased interest in Picture Books, Activity Books and Animal Stories. Those with children aged 9-17 are more interested in buying Spy/Detective/Mystery Stories, Fantasy and Classic stories.

Author and language preferences

English is the most preferred language for reading followed by Hindi. One in three male readers prefers to read in Hindi. Younger consumers (?34) are reading more titles from international authors compared to older readers (?35). Two-thirds of respondents prefer both international as well as Indian authors while one in 11 respondents prefers only Indian authors.

Methods for discovering and choosing books

Recommendations from friends/relatives followed by media articles/reviews and general browsing on bookseller websites were the most influential factors on discovering books before and during unlock phases. Female readers are more likely than men to seek out recommendations from friends/relatives and read media articles/reviews. Meanwhile, male readers like to discover books by browsing on bookseller websites and looking at bestseller sections.

Change in sources used for buying books

Purchasing online followed by physical bookstores and then home delivery were the most preferred options for buying books in unlock phases. Six out of 10 respondents expect to buy books through physical stores and seven out of 10 through an online bookshop after the pandemic is over, with the proportion higher than before the pandemic in each case, but more so for online than in-store. Respondents also think they will make more use of home delivery after the pandemic than before.

Purchasing behaviour for paperback books

Fifty percent of fiction readers and forty percent of non-fiction readers prefer the price point of INR 200-INR 400 when purchasing paperback fiction and non-fiction titles. If you would like to request a copy of the report please e-mail:

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