Are Buying Many Books at the Moment
Are Buying Many Books at the Moment
On Monday night, the literary amanuensis, editor and publisher Andrew Blauner sent his contacts a PDF of “The Patient’s Checklist” by Elizabeth Bailey. The book is currently out of impress, and with no digital copies available, Blauner wanted people to have access to the text should they fall ill and have to go to the hospital. “You can transport this version to anyone you’d like, anyone you remember might exist helped by information technology. It’s the book which [doctor and author] Atul Gawande said ‘could save your life.’ ”
Blauner is but one fellow member of the homebound publishing community nonetheless trying to find a way to work, even if it means giving away a book that sold a respectable 17,000 copies when information technology was published in 2011. The editors and writers who create books, most based in the U.South. epicenter of the pandemic, New York, and the retailers across the country who put them into customers’ hands are not considered essential businesses. They are effectively on hiatus.
And yet this crisis should be an opportunity for book publishing, a period of high demand from readers stuck at home. Ebooks and digital audiobooks are selling better than usual, alongside the print books Amazon and a few others manage to deliver. So what does the overall picture look like for publishing at a moment when readers demand the manufacture the most? And just as of import, what might information technology await similar on the other side of the pandemic?
Commencement, there is the short-term tragedy of the
independent bookstores, which some segment of the population considers essential — peculiarly store owners themselves. Nancy Bass Wyden, owner of the Strand bookstore in Manhattan, filed a request with the New York governor’south office to stay open just a day after
laying off 188 booksellers. “We strongly believe that our eighteen miles of books are a vital resource the earth could really use correct now,” she said in a argument
posted online. If anyone understands the levers of government power, she does: her married man is Ronald Lee Wyden, the senior U.S. Senator from Oregon, whom she is said to have met while visiting the famous
in Portland, Ore. — a bookstore chain that, incidentally, laid off more than 360 of its own unionized employees last week.
Bookstores outside of shelter-in-place zones have done their best to shift to telephone or online orders (though many still don’t offer online ordering). To sell a book, they generally have ii options: They can pull one from their own shelves and deliver it curbside or to the customer’s dwelling; or if it isn’t in stock, they tin have it shipped by one of the handful of national book distribution companies, which have been accounted essential and remain open but are equally vulnerable to illnesses or farther lockdowns.
“If [the book distributors] close downwardly, it’s going to be a nightmare for united states of america,” said Mitchell Kaplan, who runs Books & Books, which has 5 stores in Miami and is now online-only after letting 90 employees go.
Similar most others, the industry is holding its breath and counting its meager blessings. The booksellers who accept managed to go along things going past shifting to online orders and deliveries have seen a small surge in sales, but the majority report that the book doesn’t come up close to that of a typical day. In that location’southward too widespread skepticism that customers will keep it up — fearfulness that this is just a temporary prove of commonage goodwill.
took over as chief executive
of the American Booksellers Assn., the trade group that represents some 1,880 companies, on March ane. Prior to working for the ABA, Colina was a long-fourth dimension resident of Los Angeles, where she was the president and CEO of
Vroman’due south in Pasadena and BookSoup
in West Hollywood. Now, she spends her days lobbying the government for relief and back up for bookstores, many of which are at present nether threat of endmost permanently. Despite what has for several years been touted as a resurgence of independent booksellers, simply a tertiary of indie bookstores were profitable earlier the coronavirus, according to the ABA, which said several were
“getting killed in the retail apocalypse.”
Even the most successful and beloved bookstores are desperate. Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Mich. — Publishers Weekly’s 2019 Bookstore of the Twelvemonth — just
in working capital to ensure its survival.
How bad is information technology for bookstores, really? Just ask the Volume Manufacture Charitable Foundation, a pocket-size nonprofit that offers assistance to booksellers in need. They accept raised $700,000 since the start of the crunch and conceptualize a minimum of
m booksellers needing at least $i,000
each in the most term.
And so with stores closed and thousands of booksellers unemployed, who might step up to serve increasing demand? Online retailers are reporting a surge in demand for print books. The ABA’s own online bookselling sites clocked a
250% increment in traffic;
Bookshop.org, which just launched in February and partners with indies and media, reported
a 400% increase in sales, which put $100,000 back into bookstores’ bank accounts.
Presumably, this surge extends to Walmart and Amazon.com, though the latter, which accounts for equally much as l% of U.S. book sales, has officially “deprioritized” delivering books and at present lists many bestsellers as not shipping for several weeks. Barnes & Noble, still the nation’s biggest bookstore chain, has managed to go on its stores open up wherever it can. Final week, CEO
James Daunt said, “Our sales are up very strongly
but we’re necessarily preparing our company and our booksellers for the potential that it could come to a standstill.” Were that to happen, mass layoffs might dwarf those of the indies.
The big question in publishing is whether this is the moment people plow to ebooks. Volume lovers accept never quite embraced them to the extent that was predicted when Jeff Bezos commencement introduced the Kindle in 2007. Sales accept been in a slow, steady reject, partly due to the fast-rising popularity of downloadable audiobooks.
Since the outset of the pandemic, ebooks are selling at
“about the level we would see during the holidays,”
Michael Tamblyn, CEO of ebook and audiobook seller Rakuten Kobo, told this reporter for a piece in Publishers Weekly. Libro.fm, which sells downloadable audiobooks through independent bookstores, reported “tape sales” since the start of the crunch. If these smaller retailers are seeing such a big boost, major digital platforms like Apple, Google, Amazon and its subsidiary Audible surely are equally well. (Large tech is chary about releasing sales numbers.) Libraries across the U.S., likewise shuttered, are
shifting resources away from print books and pouring money into ebooks.
Despite the shift in habits, temporary as it may exist, the manufacture equally a whole — never a fast-moving one — is now frozen. Writer tours are canceled; book printings are on concord; layoffs may be coming. Publishers are pulling out of springtime industry gatherings such equally New York’s BookExpo — now postponed until summer while its venue, the Javits Center, becomes
a temporary hospital.
The bully debate is over what to do with forthcoming books: Do yous motion them, like the new James Bond moving picture, at the risk of doing the once-unthinkable — putting out a large volume in the centre of a presidential ballot? Or do you plow ahead, and hope the social media gods will look kindly on your efforts (provided the publishers don’t lay off their Gen Z social media marketing team under a “terminal-in, start-out” policy)?
Publishing’s glacial production and sales schedule, in which even a hot book takes a year or two to attain the market, means that some of the most urgent stories will not get told as quickly. And considering of its complicated business model, information technology volition exist well into the latter half of this year before we know whether or not gains in ebook sales will mitigate lost print revenue.
Looking ahead, just one thing is sure: Writers now take a lot more time on their hands to write. The terminate of the crisis may find literary agents inundated with fresh manuscripts. The problem is that past then, there may not be enough agents — or booksellers or publishers — left in the business to absorb all the submissions.
“While the coming months will provide more writing time for a lot of people, many will see their time reduced,” said literary agent Jennifer Carlson, partner at Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Bureau. “Many of us will bear excruciating grief and hardship, while others of u.s.a. may get away more with discomfort and upheaval.”
Notwithstanding, she was looking forrard to the forthcoming material: in nonfiction, “even more about our always-deepening systemwide global and domestic sinkholes”; while in fiction, “I suspect that magical realism and genre bending could do a lot to address current reality — a ‘Calgon take me away’ setup with a firm grip on human ingenuity and undiluted rage.”
And who is likely to do good most from all this chaos, ingenuity and undiluted rage?
The last publisher assured to exist left standing, the ane that has a built-in audition and volition never have a shortage of customers, the one with a parent visitor that is actually benefiting in this dire moment, the inventor of the Kindle and unagented self-publishing: Amazon.
Nawotka is the bookselling and international editor of Publishers Weekly.
Are Buying Many Books at the Moment