The UK is currently under a government-mandated lockdown, all non-essential shops are closed and the public are, for the most part, not allowed to leave their homes, due to the global pandemic of the Coronavirus. Although these are necessary restrictions in place of the health of the Nation, this has had a large impact on many different industries because people are unable to access shops and so physical sales are down for many products. This includes book sales, which has a deep impact on the publishing industry.
When publishing a piece of writing there is a chain that needs to be followed, starting from writers, to editors, eventually making it to printers, distributors and shops to make sales. Without one of these elements, a profit cannot be made from the writing as there is a break in the chain. Coronavirus has an impact on the latter side of the industry, mainly because there is no access to physical copies of books. For many writers, the sale of physical copies makes up the majority of sales. Many books will sell at a higher rate based on how they are marketed, for example, if bookshops have displays of it, or booksellers recommend it to customers. Without this face-to-face marketing, new books, and consequently, new authors may miss out on recognition for their writing. To a new author, this can be damaging or even fatal to your career. In addition to this, the restrictions on group gatherings mean that new publications have a lack of promotion. The virus ensures that public events such as book tours and signings have been cancelled. This, again, means less sales of physical books, and entails a lot more people are turning to e-books.
In 2007, Amazon released their first Kindle e-reader, raising speculation that this would one day be the future medium books would be released in. Now, over ten years later, that seems to be the reality. The jump from physical publications to digital ones has increased in speed due to the lack of access to bookshops and libraries the public are facing. This brings into question what the future of publishing will look like. If print copies of books are going out of fashion, does this mean that publishing houses and printing factories will be out of work? Is a whole industry that relies on a traditional ‘pen-to-paper’ approach to writing becoming digitised faster than we thought? This transition from physical to digital publications has been sped up by the lockdown, and this method may remain this way afterwards too.
But what does this mean for the book sales industry? Amazon monopolises ebooks and audiobooks, but also physical sales that are made for online distribution. Large companies, such as Amazon and Waterstones, already had online websites for book sales before the impact of the virus, meaning they are still making a profit despite the restrictions placed on their businesses. Smaller, independent bookshops are finding this transition harder because many of them did not previously have online resources to make sales. Without time to prepare for a sudden jump into online marketing, lots of these types of shops will be finding it hard to survive our current circumstances. Without a market to make sales, smaller bookshops are going without income, suggesting there is only so long they will be able to stay in business during this time.
Why does this matter? This matters because independent bookshops are a means of developing personal connections with literature. They represent books as a form of communication, without the influence of impersonal retailers. Independent bookshops are more likely to support local writers, or writers that are not praised in mainstream media. They represent the local community, provide local employment. My local bookshop is praised for their environmental status, not stocking plastic bags and being cautious of their travel miles when importing their stock. It is changes like this, that in our time as so important for the environment and wellbeing of our population, that smaller businesses are more likely to implement than large corporations. Smaller bookshops care about their customers and can communicate with them as individuals.
During this time, many independent shops will be slowly transitioning to the online market. Many bookshops have begun taking orders over the phone and delivering locally, others are accepting donations from the community to keep their shops open after lockdown has ended. I encourage you to consider supporting your local bookshops during this pandemic, especially since this is a time in the publishing industry that might change how books are produced and read forever.