Last month ended with a dramatic dip of 30.7% of bookstore sales compared of August of last year. What the month's sales had been $1.09 billion in August 2019, in 2020 it was only over $754 million.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, workers across the book industry declared June 8th a Day of Solidarity to show their support for the protesters.
A recent diversity survey by Lee & Low Books reveals racial disparities within the publishing industry.
In the wake of the protests against racism and police brutality towards Black people all over the world, publishers have released industry statistics.
Now, more than ever seems like the perfect time for the publishing industry. People have more free time to read and write, and while bookstores might be closed for now, you can still order books online and directly into your preferred electronic reading devices.
At first glance, publishing seems to perfectly fitting for working-from-home. Industries such as the movies, television, and music have been shut down and suspended until further notice; but writers, editors, and everyone who makes a book happen have been able to continue doing their jobs without risk of contagion. So, the question is: is the book publishing flourishing?
The answer to that is: not really. But if people have more time to read, and therefore should be spending more money on books, then why is COVID-19 also affecting the publishing industry?
It comes down to four main elements: events (or lack thereof), bookstores (or lack thereof), press (or lack thereof), and readers (or, you guessed it, lack thereof).
If you have been following the news, you know that just about every event on earth was canceled, and the publishing industry was not spared. Some of the most important industry events like Book Expo and the London book fair were canceled because of coronavirus regulations. These events are not only an opportunity for book lovers around the globe to gather and talk about books and spend money on them, these are also the events were a lot of business deals happen. Around 25,000 publishers, authors, and agents from all over the world attend to these events; and in them, a lot of foreign rights sales and other deals happen (which brings in a lot of money for publishing houses). But it’s not only these huge events that have taken their toll. Regional book fairs, bookstore events, author signings, book launches, book tours, and many others disappeared into thin air, and with them taking all the revenue that they bring.
The closing of bookstores has also greatly affected the industry. While electronic books and audiobooks are still available, many readers still prefer a physical reading experience, which is hard to obtain when there are no bookstores open and shipping has been more complicated than ever. And because bookstores are closed it is also hard for people to just wander into a bookstore and stumble into one or a couple of books that they’re interested in and eventually buy. According to the Association of American Publishers, bookstore sales were down 33 percent, and overall book sales in March were down 8.7 percent compared to the previous month. Ouch.
Letting people know about books has also been particularly hard in the last few months. With just about every news platform being overtaken by COVID-19 updates, getting press coverage for new books has been nearly impossible. Pub dates come and go and people barely notice. Many authors have taken to social media and other online publications to promote their books, but the weight of the lack of press from other mediums can still be felt by everyone in the industry.
And finally, the fact that we’re all stuck at home doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re all reading now. Responsibilities didn’t vanish in the wake of the pandemic. Many people still have full-time jobs and even emergency shifts, and what otherwise might’ve been some free time is now being taken over by other activities such as taking care of other family members, helping kids with online school, etc. And if all that stress-baking didn’t make it obvious, a lot of anxiety has emerged from this crisis, which can make it really hard to concentrate on reading.
While the publishing industry is adapting as well as they can to this pandemic, the future remains uncertain.