Surprising Paper Trends During the Coronavirus Pandemic

As people grow weary of online entertainment and digital communication in the age of COVID-19, industry analysts have noticed some interesting paper trends, particularly when it comes to books, education, entertainment and communication.

There’s no question that the coronavirus pandemic has changed many things about our daily lives, from the way we work and learn to the way we shop and play. The buying and consuming habits that have emerged over the past several months will keep sociologists and scientists busy for years as they study the effect of isolation on modern human behavior.

But as the novelty of working and learning from home wears off, only to be replaced by digital overload and Zoom fatigue, people have started turning off their electronics and embracing analog alternatives, if only for a few hours at a time. The resulting paper trends have created some bright spots for our industry.

Printed Book Sales Surge
Printed books have enjoyed a sharp increase in popularity since March. Rakuten Intelligence, a market research firm, recently tracked online sales for major companies, excluding Amazon. It reported that books saw a 777 percent increase in sales in the first half of April, compared to the same period in March.

The type of books people bought also reflected a shift in consumer focus. Publisher’s Weekly, which tracks category sales, reported in April that demand increased for books about outdoor skills (up 74 percent from a year ago) and medical history (up 71 percent). Other popular categories include cooking, DIY and gardening.

Many independent book stores have been able to stay afloat by transitioning to online and curbside sales of printed books during the shutdown. Kris Kleindienst, owner of popular St. Louis bookstore Left Bank Books, reported that sales in April and May exceeded sales for the same period in 2019, despite the store being closed to walk-in traffic.

“I feel cautiously optimistic,” Kleindienst told a local news outlet. “We’ve managed to survive the unthinkable now for a couple of months, and I see the resiliency in the community at large, and the creativity of all of the small businesses, and that people are responsive to that.

Activity Books Appeal to All Ages
Faced with supporting their kids’ distance learning while also trying to work from home, parents turned to activity books and other printed educational materials to supplement online classes and occupy their kids during nonschool hours.

Early in the pandemic, the top-selling printed book on Amazon was an activity book for preschoolers, and approximately half of Amazon’s top 100 print bestseller list featured educational and activity books for kids, establishing the category as one of the year’s hottest paper trends.

Dan Reynolds, CEO of Workman Publishing, which produces these types of books, told The New York Times, “This demand is at a level that we’ve never seen before.” The company has ordered millions of reprints of its activity books to fill orders from Amazon, major retailers and independent bookstores.

Other suppliers reported that sales of juvenile educational nonfiction rose nearly 40 percent in a single week in March, while sales of Scholastic educational workbooks increased nearly 70 percent in mid-March, compared to the same period in 2019.

That’s not to say activity books are just for kids. Current paper trends include sales of puzzle, coloring and workbook titles for all ages, which increased as much as 200 percent in the early months of the pandemic. Adult coloring books, one of the biggest paper trends a few years ago, have also enjoyed a comeback as people look for creative ways to entertain themselves when they’ve “finished Netflix.” Other activity books for adults, such as crossword, word search and sudoku puzzle books, are selling so fast publishers are scrambling to keep up.

Greeting Cards Say It Better
In one of the more poignant paper trends of 2020, sympathy and encouragement greeting cards are selling faster than manufacturers can restock them. With social distancing guidelines still in effect for much of the country, people who are unable to attend funerals are sending their condolences via greeting cards.

Kelly Ricker, chief creative officer of American Greetings, told ABC News, “During this time of social distancing, the ability to communicate in writing with friends and loved ones is more important than ever, to many consumers. Our ability to keep cards in stock has been limited at times by the various shelter-in-place orders that state and local governments have implemented.”

Sympathy card shortages don’t mean people have turned to digital alternatives, like electronic greeting cards or text messages. “Sending a sympathy message needs to be done in a heartfelt way, and a text or Facebook timeline posting is probably not adequate,” said Alan Friedman, a business owner who serves on the board of the Greeting Card Association.

The same could be said about other card categories. Paper Source’s sales of greeting cards increased 1,200 percent between March and May of this year. The increase is due not just to sympathy card sales but also to sales of friendship, thank you and Mother’s Day cards.

The company’s CEO, Winnie Park, said in a recent interview that the slower pace of pandemic life is inspiring this and other paper trends. “One of the great silver linings out of this is the time for people to slow down and go back to the basics,” she said. “We’ve seen explosive growth during this period.”

Will These Paper Trends Continue?
These and other paper trends will likely continue as long as the pandemic has its grip on our lives. Whether they’ll become permanent is anyone’s guess. But we think a return to paper is a nice alternative to video games, Netflix binges, chat groups, Zoom meetings and other online methods to pass the time. If you’re looking for creative ways to combat boredom while stay-at-home orders remain in effect, then consider these paper-based activities.

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