In conversations with our agency’s clients these past couple of weeks, each one has asked me how the coronavirus affects publishing. We, of course, don’t know the long-term affect. But I thought I’d update you all on what’s happened so far.
Mass Migration to Working at Home
As is true for most businesses, publishers declared all employees who can work from home were to do so. The majority of publishers announced that decision the week of March 15. In my connections with publishing staff that week, I was surprised at how vigorously engaged they were with me via email. I was tapping on the computer keys as fast as I could but still couldn’t keep up with my inbox. I wondered if this indicatied how much more productive editors, etc. could be if freed up from meetings.
Well, the second week of working from home brought far fewer emails. So either everyone ended up with videoconferencing meetings to fill in blank spots on their calendars, or editors settled into a work life-home life balance that enabled them to do deeper work. Or, another option is that they were striving to figure out their work life-homeschooling balance…
Speaking of videoconferencing, I’m getting plenty of practice putting on makeup and accessorizing outfits. That’s because I’m involved in a lot more videoconferencing sessions with publishing personnel. I’m thankful we have the technology to have these sessions. These sessions indicate that business is proceeding. Editorial and publishing committee meetings also are taking place, using videoconferencing.
Are individuals who are stuck at home turning to books as part of their entertainment package? We have reports from the week of March 15 to indicate that books sales were good.
These categories saw considerable growth:
- Studying from home/what to do with the kids showed the biggest gains during the week
- Followed by reading for pleasure.
Among specific sub-categories of scale, in terms of their overall size, the biggest increases in sales were for:
- literary fiction (22%)
- kids’ activity books (27%)
- personal memoirs (67%)
- and self-help (63%)
- followed by kids’ study aids, and coloring books.
Amazon and Coronavirus
Amazon was inundated with orders for health products and food, especially. So much so that the behemoth announced they were looking to add 100,000 employees to fill orders. They also announced that different categories of purchases would be given different priorities. Health and food were labeled the highest priority. This week Amazon made Prime members a priority as well.
Unfortunately, books were considered a low priority. When you order a book, it can take a couple of weeks for it to reach you. Plus Amazon isn’t vigorously restocking books; the focus is on keeping other product stocked. The delays in shipping aren’t across the board, but you’ll be told when your items will arrive after you add each item to your cart.
This, of course, has a deleterious affect on book sales. Most publishers find 60-70% of their book sales come from Amazon. Although I talked to an editor this week who indicated the publishing house for whom he works sees 25% of their sales from Amazon. (I’m pretty sure that’s the exception rather than the rule.)
Barnes & Noble, Independent Stores, and Coronavirus
B&N has noted an uptick in book sales so far for March, especially digital sales from its website. Publishers suggest that authors encourage readers to order from Barnes & Noble rather than Amazon, considering Amazon’s new fulfillment priorities. B&N has shuttered many of its stores temporarily.
Independent bookstores have gotten creative by offering curb pickup options for customers. Some bookstores in Southern California decided to put together Care Packages. These packages include books, of course, but customers can customize each Care Package by picking out socks, bookmarks, greeting cards, etc., which the bookstores carry. The packages are then shipped out to the address the buyer indicates. You can read more about this creative idea and how it’s working here.
Release Dates Redo
Some titles’ release dates are being pushed back in hopes that book buyers will pay more attention to the releases when life returns to normal. That’s especially true for books by renowned authors, who have the ability to garner significant sales but might not get the same rush-to-purchase now, when we’re not preoccupied with the coronavirus.
One of my clients has a novel releasing in September, entitled Airborne (by DiAnn Mills). The tale centers on a virus released on an airplane. Now, some of us don’t care to read fiction about viruses at this point, but a significant uptick of sales has occurred for such novels. As have virus-focused films. “Contagion,” which was released in 2011, has become the film du jour.
With this in mind, we contemplated with the publisher whether we could release Airborne earlier than planned. But ultimately, we concluded that too many steps in its release would be skipped (appearing in the publisher’s catalog, having sales reps present it to bookstore buyers, etc.). But the publisher did produce a sampler of the book’s first two chapters to encourage wannabe buyers to pre-order the book.
In these ways publishing is showing that it can be flexible and thoughtful in making adjustments.
Wait and See
As is true with every aspect of coronavirus, we’ll see long-term the affect this disease will have on the publishing industry. I would think the longer we’re living isolated from each other and normal lifestyle choices, the greater the impact. Exactly what that means, we don’t know. But, for the most part, publishing seems to have adjusted quickly to our new norms. Book contracts continue to be offered, marketing plans are being put into place for upcoming releases with the assumption that someday media won’t be consumed by the virus, and many other aspects of publishing continue apace.
What questions do you have about how publishing is adjusting to the virus? What adjustments have you made?
How has publishing been affected by the coronavirus? Click to tweet.
In what ways has publishing adjusted to the coronavirus? Click to tweet.