Apr 29th, 2020, 07:12 PM

Publishing Industry Struggling During Worldwide Lockdown

By Caitlin Kelly
A closed bookstore in Phoenix. Image Credit: Flickr/Katexic
How are publishers, bookstores and authors dealing with the repercussions of the current pandemic?

Imagine you have just gotten a publishing deal for a book you’ve been working on for years. You’ve poured your heart and soul into this book. You get the letter of acceptance for publication from a renowned publishing house, and you can’t wait for people to be able to buy it. But then a pandemic grips the world, and almost every country enters total lockdown. For the sake of health and safety, many have been avoiding ordering non-essential items on the internet. And there’s no doubt people have not been going to bookstores and seeing the new releases. 

Jessica Pearce, an author who debuted during the COVID-19 pandemic, explains her experience having her first published book released during a lockdown and inevitable economic recession.

Her book titled "What We Inherit: A Secret War and a Family’s Search for Answers" was published on April 21, already quite far into the lockdown. It is an account of a family trying to make sense of a loss. It also chronicles her family’s involvement in the military. It’s unfortunate that such a deeply personal story to the author was published at a time when people are hardly buying things aside from toilet paper and canned food. 

In an interview conducted by Fast Company, Pearce was asked when she realized that the pandemic was going to greatly affect book sales. 

Pearce commented, “the first week in March, my editor called to say the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was being postponed until October. I was supposed to fly out to California in a few short weeks to be on a memoir panel.” Book tours and events are not only ways for authors to connect with their readers, but they are also ways in which the book gains recognition, persuading more people to buy and read it. 

And this isn’t just impacting individual authors. The publishing industry as a whole has been financially struggling since lockdowns began to be put in place around the world. In France, there are 3,000 independent bookstores — double the amount in the U.S., Spain, the U.K. and Germany — who depend on shipments of books to stay afloat. Within the nation's first seven days of confinement, from March 16 to March 22, unit sales dropped 54 percent compared to the previous week. 

This coronavirus has completely rewired the way publishing works. The industry is not solely about putting authors’ books into print — it’s also largely about marketing and organizing events, like book launches. With this huge chunk of the process taken out of the picture, book publishers are truly suffering, which, in turn, affects independent bookstores. 

An anonymous art book publisher says, “bookshops are begging us not to bring out too many books, and to limit the releases in the spring and summer so they can sell what they already have in stock.” 

Even if people did want to order books during the lockdown, postal services are having considerable trouble shipping packages, and many have closed. For example, in France, Amazon has completely halted deliveries. And even if they were to accept stock from publishers, there isn’t much to sell, as many authors are pushing back the publication dates of their books if they can. 

It is difficult to help support the publishing industry, which indirectly supports independent bookstores and authors, while staying safe from COVID-19. To do so, consider buying e-books or listening to audiobooks — some vendors such as FNAC are even offering these for free. During this time full of sacrifice and loss, the smallest purchase can help to support businesses in need. 

As Pearce points out, staying engaged with new publications helps stories transcend the physical barriers that are separating us at the moment. 

"Tours may be canceled. Libraries may have closed their doors, and brownstone stoops may have less free piles for the taking. But at the end of these long quarantine days, I have been logging online and watching authors share stories. In our sleepless present, we have the incredible opportunity to read to one another out loud from within the walls of our homes, all of us waiting out the future together."