“If you don’t come out of this quarantine with at least a dozen books read, you’ve wasted your time,” is the common phrase on social media. But has anyone wondered how publishers and bookstores will survive the pandemic?
In the United States alone, and before this crisis changed life as we know it, an average of 300,000 books were published each year, including new titles and reissues.
According to the 2016 Bowker Report, more than 700,000 books are self-published in the country each year, a 375 percent increase since 2010, but the industry is not prepared to deal with that rate of production, especially with a deep drop in book sales since 2007.
Ebooks, audiobooks, and podcasts have done little to dent the situation, without considerable growth in physical book sales.
Add to this a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, where the noble effort of bookstores — both chain stores and independent ones — is crushed by the urgency of closing public spaces, and by the blow that the economy has suffered in general, and you get a discouraging picture.
“The editors and writers who create books, most based in the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, New York, and the retailers across the country who put them into customers’ hands are not considered essential businesses,” The Los Angeles Times explained. “They are effectively on hiatus.”
Although the new reality of confinement would be, for some, a new opportunity for the market, being “a period of high demand from readers stuck at home,” the numbers do not seem to reflect this.
“The booksellers who have managed to keep things going by shifting to online orders and deliveries have seen a small surge in sales, but the majority report that the volume doesn’t come close to that of a typical day,” adds the Times.
In addition, the closing of national and international fairs, book signings, conferences, and other events in the publishing industry have helped to strangle one of the pillars of culture around the world.
According to Publisher’s Weekly, publishers such as Skyhorse have reduced their staff by 30 percent, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group has given most of its staff temporary leave, and Scholastic has used a combination of leave, reduced work weeks,and unpaid voluntary leave to deal with costs during the pandemic.
And with the complex circumstances facing distribution companies like Amazon, where only so-called “essential products” are delivered on time, some books can take up to three weeks to reach their new owners.
“The very functions of the literary world have been put in an induced coma,” James Daunt, the chief executive of Barnes & Noble, told the New York Times . “There’s going to be a barren period when all the books that were to be published now and over the next few months are going to be shunted forward into the calendar. Fewer books will see the light of day.”