The Pandemic Still Made Its Presence Felt in Publishing in 2022

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Given all of the attention that the Department of Justice’s successful trial to block Penguin Random House’s purchase of Simon & Schuster drew, it can be hard to remember what other trends, challenges, and issues confronted the publishing industry in 2022.

In many ways, last year the industry was still dealing with the fallout caused by the pandemic. For one thing, return-to-office policies remained in flux throughout the year; just when a publisher would announce plans to bring back employees to the office for a few days a week, another surge would come along and scuttle those plans. In addition, executives at the big publishers were meeting stiff resistance from employees on any sort of mandate to return to the office. In PW’s most recent salary and jobs survey, respondents said that the creation of work-from-home policies was the most important benefit their company established during the height of the pandemic, and the overwhelming majority of respondents were concerned that their company would soon be requiring employees to be in the office for a certain number of days each week.

The supply chain problems that were prevalent for much of 2021 continued into 2022, though conditions did improve. Price increases for printing, paper, and shipping eased in 2022, though, as the highest inflation in decades set in, production costs still remained well above 2019 levels, squeezing profit margins. The printing capacity crunch also eased a bit, albeit not for a good reason—printers received fewer orders as book sales declined.

When the pandemic began, consumers moved more of their spending toward online retailers and away from bricks-and-mortar stores in 2020 and 2021. That shift led Amazon to place big orders for all items, including books, over the last few years. As consumers began returning to stores in greater numbers in 2022, increases in online spending slowed—a trend that hit Amazon hard. To work down the amount of book inventory it had accumulated, Amazon drastically cut back on new orders it placed over the summer, with some publishers reporting sales declines as deep as 70% with Amazon in the summer months. HarperCollins cited the plunge in orders from Amazon as the key reason why sales in its quarter ended September 30 fell 11%. The dramatic decline of orders from Amazon, along with the news that Amazon had cut some jobs in its Books group, led some industry members to wonder if the company was losing interest in the book market, speculation that Amazon firmly denied. Publishers did report orders from the e-tailer improved in the early fall.

The return of shoppers to physical retailers was good news for bookstores. ABA reported a record number of members, while Barnes & Noble began opening new outlets in the year and expects to open 30 new stores in 2023. Total bookstore sales through October were up 7.5% over the comparable period in 2021 and, following two years of declines, could return to 2019 levels in 2022. The improving retail environment didn’t lift all boats, however. In the spring, Amazon announced it was closing all 24 of its physical bookstores; Amazon opened its first bookstore in November 2015 to tremendous fanfare.

. . . .

With the easing of pandemic-related restrictions, the publishing calendar returned to a more normal pattern. In the U.S., the fall regional bookseller shows had solid attendance as they returned to in-person events. All of the primary international book fairs also held in-person events, though many still saw reduced foot traffic from pre-pandemic levels in the shadow of inflation, the ongoing threat of Covid, and the war in Ukraine.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

8 thoughts on “The Pandemic Still Made Its Presence Felt in Publishing in 2022”

  1. “That shift led Amazon to place big orders for all items, including books, over the last few years.”

    I’ve never heard of this – does anyone else know if it’s pure fantasy? Does it apply to paper books from the big publishers?

    If so, did it lead to lower prices for books for which there was excess inventory on hand?

    • Not sure about Amazon but *last year* (2021), a lot of retailers overordered over supply chain issues and now are faced with overstock due to inflation and the recession that “isn’t happening”. (Never mind the 100,000 layoffs in the last few months.)

      From CNBC, last year:

      https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/20/retailers-manufacturers-over-ordering-amid-supply-chain-crisis.html

      Two things known to be true at Amazon: to serve the increased demand during the pandemic, they grew their staff and airplane fleet too much and are looking to post-holidays layoffs and trying to find customers to use the empty space on their planes. They aren’t getting rid of the planes themselves because they expect to need the full capacity soon enough.

      Big publishers? Doubt they’d overorder much because the BPHs weren’t publishing much and Amazon relies a lot on POD. And it wouldn’t matter much if they did as Amazon rarely does returns. Any overordering problem in trade publishing would be in the B&M space, which *always* overorders. (Free returns!) Regardless, any overordering wouldn’t lead to discounts in normal channels. (What?! Devalue books?!) At most, more returns, more deep discount at outlets, more pulping.

      Still it never hurts to blame Amazon, right?

      • Amazon leveled the buying field for people like me – disabled, ill, homebound for any reason (and now scared to go out because the rest of the world have gone mad and dumped their masks with their good sense) – I can get almost anything I need quickly, efficiently, and rightly priced. The rest of humanity – those who never accommodated us before – seem to resent this.

        I like being catered to. Or just basically being included. Amazon isn’t perfect, but the automatic knee-jerk blame always strikes me as ableist.

        And yes, I’m aware Amazon didn’t do it on purpose just for my kind – they did it because they treat all customers as valued. I’ll take it. I’ve always had money I couldn’t spend in stores.

        And I’ve been happy with them as my distributor for POD and ebooks.

        • There is good money to be made (at minimal cost, too) by thinking of all the customers and their needs and limitations. For all that the ABA crowd harps on pricing, Amazon’s true calling card is customer convenience. Ease of ordering, ease of tracking, ease of return. They try to cover every base, even things nobody normally things of.

          Things like packaging, for example.

          Amazon is pretty good at creating stress free packaging but they are not unique. Microsoft, for one, created a gaming controller accomodating the needs of folks with limited mobilitity but they didn’t stop there. Where others would seal it in a plastic package that might resist a nuclear strike, they took pains to ship it in a “no teeth” box:

          https://news.xbox.com/en-us/2018/07/25/accessible-unboxing-of-the-xbox-adaptive-controller/
          (video included)

          “For example, the team developed a ‘no teeth’ principle, reflecting the common behavior practiced by individuals with limited mobility when opening packages. Often when engaging with packages not designed for maximum accessibility, customers resort to improvised means of accessing the product –including using their teeth. With the Xbox Adaptive Controller packaging, we wanted to ensure that no such extreme measures would be required! We also heard how painful twist ties, zip cords and paper that can cause cuts can be—things commonly overlooked by many, but which become so much more difficult for people with limited mobility to navigate.

          With tester feedback, we built many different iterations for the packaging – ensuring every detail was right. We wanted to ensure the packaging fit within the Xbox packaging ecosystem – a true member of the controller family – and didn’t want to create separation or ‘otherness’ from the Xbox brand. We wanted gamers to say, “Wow, this is truly an Xbox product.”

          Here’s a few other, key accessible features of the Xbox Adaptive Controller packaging:

          Both the single-shipper and retail package have been designed to “unfold” to reveal what’s inside with minimal friction. The shipper reveals the retail package, and the retail package reveals the Xbox Adaptive Controller.
          Discreet air cells integrated into the shipper packaging for protection for the product while maintaining a small footprint and clean design.
          Every major step of the unboxing incorporates loops, a feature that we heard resounding positive feedback on from beta testers. Loops are a highly proven lever to assist in accessibility. The leveraging of loops begins with the tear-strip on the single shipper, kicking off the out-of-box experience seamlessly. On the retail box, a specially designed ‘break-the-seal’ label (which keeps the box lid secured to the base) employs two loops, for multi-directional removal. A soft, grey loop initiates the opening experience, then there are integrated loops on both the paper Quick Start Guide (QSG) and cable folio. There are five loops on the XAC packaging from beginning to end.
          An open cavity area under the controller, enabling multiple ways to remove the controller from the box, including pulling via the loop or sliding it out directly.
          The box has a low center of gravity, grounding the unboxing experience and creating a sense of stability for the end-user. Additionally, the hinged lid provides a low-effort, single-pivot access into the package.’
          ——-
          Not quite cheap, but that kind of attention to detail only needs doing once and it pays off in added sales indefinitely. Especially for a product intended for the accessibility market. Not much sense in releasing an accessibility peripheral that requires a LASER and crowbar to unpack.

          Details matter.

        • Who resents anyone getting stuff quickly, efficiently, and rightly priced? Every segment of society is doing it. How is this resentment expressed? Aimed at Amazon or a specific class of consumers?

          • 1- B&M retailers. Traditional publishers. The literati. The NYC city dweller elite. Luddites. Anybody afraid of change.

            2- Both. Also any successful company looking to reach more consumers more conveniently. How dare they change the status quo! How dare they undercut what makes the elites “elite”?

            • OK. I’ll grant the people on the losing end of the commercial game. But that resentment would be evenly targeted towards everyone, and not in any way specifically towards disabled.

              I think the idea here is some resentment on the part of “the rest of humanity” towards the disabled participating on a particular recently leveled playing field. That I reject.

              • Not specifically but not evenly, either.
                It’s more of a gradient, based on the parochial view that folks relying on Amazon are cheapskates with skewed values who can be shamed into doing “the right thing”.

                It never crosses their mind that for many of Amazon’s (and WalMart’s and dollar store’s) customers there is no substitute. Period.

                Some folks they sneer at, as uncivilized hicks; some they actively insult; and some they ignore, as if they aren’t worth chastising or don’t exist.

                Remember: civilization ends at the Hudson, flyover country is uncivilized, and only deplorables refuse to pay full list.

                Because books are *special* and *they* are the good guys. They prefer thingslie they used to be, on top. Why allow change?

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