It is not new to anyone that the coronavirus pandemic affected the global economic situation. The pandemic has had an impact not only on countries as a whole, but also on individuals and various industries around the world.

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Early days

Book publishing, like every other creative and cultural sector is not different in this aspect. The crisis has affected authors, publishers, bookshops, and last but not least, readers. Due to Covid-19 the majority of people have been stuck at home in lockdown, with more time to read than before, but the production and distribution of books was slowed down for weeks when the pandemic hit.

As the first wave of the coronavirus reached the western world, bookstores had to close across many countries. This naturally made it harder for the readers to access the books, resulting in a drop in sales. People were not able to visit the shops physically and although the organizations had previously planned to strengthen their e-commerce, in many cases these online services were not perfected yet, so the readers simply could not buy the books. Around the end of March 2020 some booksellers’ sales were down in some cases 85%.

This change severely impacted book publishers’ turnover too. As their main distribution channels were seriously hit, many publishers had to reduce their level of work. What this meant is that numerous new publications were either postponed or cancelled worldwide. Thus, there was already a lot of preparation work put into these titles, which obviously had to be financed. The pandemic has created very challenging circumstances for that, because public events like book fairs also could not be held during the lockdown period. In April 2020, the majority of book publishers were facing liquidity problems.

A new approach

In late spring and early summer 2020 booksellers tried to further strengthen their presence online to make up for the revenue loss. Although this action helped, it did not entirely cover the in-store sales. Customers did not completely convert, but rather found alternatives for store bought books. E-library lending skyrocketed, and it is also suspected the piracy has grown significantly. In research made on the topic, readers suggested that they turned to the books they have already owned, herby reading titles from their collection and avoiding contact during the corona crisis.

Studies show that around 30% of people have read more books or listened to more audiobooks in 2020 compared to the pre-pandemic times. This however has not impacted book sales to a huge extent due to the previously mentioned factors. Further investigation also shows that reading habits shifted more towards accessible online books and e-books, with new users trying digital formats during Covid-19 times. This applies both to entertaining literature and textbooks used for teaching. During 2020 publishers and websites made many educational resources available online to help the learners.

The online-only presence of booksellers during some weeks of the pandemic was inevitable, but it made new authors’ chances of achieving big success very-very low.  It has been a general tendency that it is more difficult for new names to debut, but through an online display it is even harder to create visibility to the new authors, especially when showcased against established ones.

It is also notable that the exact effect of the pandemic on book sales is dependent on the sector and genre. Travel books, educational books and industrial materials naturally suffered a severe loss of sales. On the other hand, with a little time in the lockdown situation, children activity books and novels gained bigger popularity. Data shows that by the end of 2020 the sales in a few segments even outshined the previous year’s performance.

Generally, by the second half of 2020 publishers and bookstores could finally adapt to the new circumstances, and with that the organizations could enhance sales as well. It was also helpful that in many countries coronavirus restrictions were loosened during the summer, allowing people to visit the physical stores. Thanks to this change massive traffic was brought to the stores and to the reopened libraries, especially by the class which only reads physical copies. With good management, many stores could successfully compromise the previous loss of revenue.

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Looking ahead

It is hard to predict the exact effect of Covid-19 regarding the book publishing industry’s future, but researchers still have a general idea on what the consequences would be. It is predicted that with the interest of the new adapters and the old users, online formats will get more attention in all sorts of book sectors in the future. It is also assumed that even if the buyers want to purchase the physical copies, they will be more prone to doing it online rather than in the actual bookstores.

All in all, we can see that the coronavirus pandemic somewhat damaged the book publishing industry, but in most cases the effect was not deadly for the publishers. They generally did a good job in adapting to the new situation, and fortunately the book sector is not so dependent on advertising to generate sales. It is also the merit of the readers and the book enthusiasts who ensured constant demand, helping the organizations to sort out their initial financial issues. The pandemic, amongst many things thought societies, that books are essential assets that cannot be replaced with anything else.

We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!

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