The UK turned to books, especially fiction and crime writing, for “comfort and escapism” during the bleak pandemic months while the hunt for a response to the Covid-19 crisis pushed up demand for scientific research, a report from the publishing trade organisation has found.

Education publishing, however, languished as coronavirus-induced restrictions closed schools and colleges for much of 2020.

Total publishing income inched up 2 per cent over 2020 to £6.4bn, the report released on Tuesday showed, with the home market generating £2.5bn of income, up 4 per cent.

“In 2020, the world relied on books, scientific research and learning resources more than ever before,” the Publishers Association said on Tuesday, “but we also encountered significant unforeseen difficulties.”

Digital reading rose 12 per cent to £3bn to chase and almost catch up with the £3.4bn print market, which declined 6 per cent.

“Hugely important” scientific development also boomed, especially on demand for academic research.

“From publishing peer-reviewed vaccine research to making papers internationally accessible to world health bodies, academic publishers played a crucial role in helping the world address the issue of Covid-19,” the Publishing 2020 study said.

Total income for education fell 21 per cent to £528m, with the export market down 27 per cent to £351m. The dip in sales, highlighted in the exports of education materials, reveals the scale of the damage, even as publishers worked to support teachers and students with remote learning tools and resources.

Authors were forced to pivot online with their book launches and literary festivals and many gained global audiences for their work.

Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, Barack Obama’s A Promised Land and The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman were among the books highlighted in the report.

“The power of a good book became clearer than ever, as people embraced reading and listening for comfort and entertainment,” said Perminder Mann, chief executive of Bonnier Books UK and chair of the Consumer Publishers Council.

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