Mark Rubbo, managing director of Melbourne bookstore Readings, said the few copies he had of the three titles had sold out “within seconds” and he had ordered hundreds more.
“Seven weeks ago everyone wanted jigsaw puzzles – now they want to change the world,” he said.
It’s a similar case at Sydney’s Better Read than Dead, where manager John Boland said the bookshop had struggled to quickly satisfy customer demand.
There is also increased interest in books written by Indigenous Australians. Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu was already a bestseller but sales have doubled at Booktopia, while sales of Anita Heiss’ anthology Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia have increased tenfold. Penguin Random House has had three times the orders for Jack Charles’ memoir Born-again Blackfella in June as it had in May.
Indigenous publishing house Magabala Books experienced a spike in the last week, with May and June big months for online orders. Publisher Rachel Bin Salleh said the spike was part of a longer-term increase in interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives and stories. In the past five years, Ms Bin Salleh said, sales for Magabala books had increased by 360 per cent.
“In terms of the future, we hope that the momentum is maintained and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander publishing continues to grow, prosper and infiltrate,” she said.
Readers interest in subjects of race, racism and representation is extending beyond non-fiction. Booksellers and publishers say classic titles from writers including James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Maya Angelous, Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison are flying off shelves, as well as contemporary novels including Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other.
Novels by Indigenous Australians, including Tara June Winch’s The Yield, Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip and Tony Birch’s The White Girl, and children’s books, including Adam Briggs’ Our Home, Our Heartbeat, are also drawing readers.
Publishers are now struggling to keep up with the demand, with the stock they had of titles in local warehouses depleted and older-release books out of print.
Penguin Random House product director Kate Hoy said stock of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, which was first published in 2018, sold out almost overnight and they were “re-printing in a considerable way” with copies due next week. NewSouth Books is also re-printing Angela Y. Davis’ Freedom is a Constant Struggle first published in 2016.
Both title will be printed in Australia but for those books that will be imported the wait will be longer. Australian Publishers Association chief executive Michael Gordon-Smith said although social distancing requirements were loosening, international freight remained down and back-list titles have been hard to maintain during the crisis.
“The amount of air freight evaporated so both the price for air freight has gone up and space has gone down,” Mr Gordon-Smith said. “As the crisis wore on it became much more difficult to keep stocks up for the full range of backlist titles.”
The sales trend is a global one: Bernardine Evaristo and Reni Eddo-Lodge this week became the first black British women to the top the UK’s fiction and nonfiction paperback charts and in the US, almost all of the top best-selling books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble related to race and racism.
Mr Rubb was pleased to see people turning to books to educate themselves and better understand the Black Lives Matter movement. Readings will donate $20,000 from its sales to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.