The World of Books Braces for a Newly Ominous Future

From The New York Times:

In these isolated times, many people are inside reading, but the book business, like others, is bracing for catastrophe. Major literary festivals and fairs around the world have been canceled. Public libraries have closed. Author tours, signings and bookstore appearances have been scrapped.

As the severity of the coronavirus outbreak continues to intensify, authors, publishers and booksellers are struggling to confront and limit the financial fallout. Many fear the worst is yet to come, including more store closures and potential disruptions to warehouse and distribution centers, as well as possible paper shortages and a decline in printing capacity.

“There’s no question we’re going to see a drop in sales,” said Dennis Johnson, co-publisher of the Brooklyn-based independent press Melville House, who has directed staff to work from home. “It’s unprecedented. Nobody knows what to do except hoard Purell.”

. . . .

The potential long-term effects for book retailers are sobering. Many in the industry are worried that independent bookstores will be devastated as local and state officials mandate social distancing and order some businesses to temporarily close.

. . . .

Mitchell Kaplan, the founder of Books & Books, an independent chain in South Florida, said sales have fallen at the company’s stores and cafes, and author appearances have been canceled.

“The irony of all this is that what makes bookstores so potent, our ability to be community gathering places, has become our biggest liability,” he said.

. . . .

Some independent booksellers, including Powell’s, have already begun cutting staff. On Monday, Powell’s announced to employees that it will begin involuntary layoffs after determining the minimum number of employees it needs to keep the online store functioning. A representative of the local union that represents 400 Powell’s workers said that about 85 percent of them had already been affected by temporary layoffs, and that the company has signaled that permanent layoffs are likely to follow.

McNally Jackson, an independent chain in New York, let a substantial number of its employees go after deciding to shutter its stores for the time being. On Twitter, the company said it had temporarily laid off many of its staffers while “facing down a massive, unprecedented loss in revenue,” and added that “we intend to hire back our employees as soon as we can.” A note on the company’s website said that it is still accepting phone and online orders while the stores are closed, and offering delivery.

. . . .

The American Booksellers Association said it has been lobbying publishers to support independent stores by offering discounts, free shipping to customers and a removal of the cap on returns of unsold titles, among other measures. Other groups have been raising money to donate to hard-hit independent stores. The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which gives financial support to independent stores, released a statement offering potential assistance to stores that have been impacted by the epidemic and are unable to pay their rent or utilities bills as a result of lost sales.

Still, many in the industry worry that financial losses stemming from the outbreak will cripple a significant number of stores and cause them to close permanently. Others fear that the lockdowns and government guidelines mandating social distancing will give an even greater advantage to Amazon as more homebound customers turn to internet shopping.

. . . .

The art critic Jerry Saltz was scheduled to launch his new book, “How to Be An Artist,” at the Strand in New York on Tuesday, but will instead appear in a livestream conversation broadcast on the store’s Instagram account, which has 225,000 followers.

Some stores see virtual events as the best alternative for the foreseeable future, and perhaps the only way to stay connected with readers and their communities as more physical spaces are forced to close.

Politics and Prose, in Washington, is aiming to turn all of its scheduled author appearances into virtual events, with writers hosting a conversation about their books remotely by web video through the platform Crowdcast. “Authors are self-isolating along with the rest of us,” said Liz Hottel, the director of events and marketing at Politics and Prose. “I’m sure they are as starved for meaningful dialogue as readers are.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG notes that there is nothing that prevents indie authors from using web video to promote their books in the same manner as described in the OP.

6 thoughts on “The World of Books Braces for a Newly Ominous Future”

  1. Indie: Just launched a new fiction title today. Advertising: 30 sec. video, Bookbub, Amz Adv. Preorders 4 months. Mailing list @ 10%/day. Currently ranked about 1009 on paid Amz list and improving every hour. Trad pub? Face to face events? A damn poor way to sell books, IMHO. Bookstores? So 20th Century.

  2. It’s just like people. Those with underlying health conditions are at greatest risk from the virus.

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