Good News for the Publishing Industry
In between the headlines, amid the doom, encouraging whispers of the book-trade bouncing back from the Covid crisis are buoying the publishing industry.
Signs of an upturn have replaced the initial downturn, which came from the surge of shuttered shops as bookshops and libraries closed their doors; author engagements, trade fairs and commissions were cancelled and industry staff were furloughed and sent to work from home.
Some publishing firms, like Bloomsbury, have weathered the impact of the Covid storm well, even reporting a rise in sales. Others have been able to partially recoup losses from previous months, with some independent bookshops located in British tourist destinations reporting that a rise in UK staycations is helping counter the early damage caused by the pandemic.
Arts Council England grant funding has come as a welcome lifeline to smaller presses and even Waterstones, which has been forced to close some of its branches as a result of the pandemic, is reportedly starting to show steady recovery.
Of course, there have been casualties of the Covid crisis, with many bookshops and independent publishers forced to cease trading, libraries forced to close as we bought rather than borrowed, redundancies announced at Waterstones and WH Smiths and lost sales and lower royalty income set to affect many authors and publishers for a long while yet.
Northern Ireland’s only big book store chain – Easons – is closing all of its shops north of the border, meaning many towns in NI are now without a dedicated book shop. But, if the rebound continues, there will be a great opportunity for indie bookshops in the future.
On the whole though, the negative impact of lockdown seems not to have been quite as astronomical as first anticipated.
Catalyst for Change
Indeed, there have even been some positive effects of lockdown – with the crisis serving as a catalyst to bring publishers up to speed with digital strategies as they’ve needed to be agile, adapting to offer online sales and virtual events. PR departments have also had to be creative when coming up with campaigns to promote delayed book launches.
Many publishers and booksellers have been forced to improve their online offerings, while direct engagement with readers across social media channels has enabled authors and publishers alike to cultivate deeper connections with the people who buy their books.
Reading as Respite
Meanwhile, more people have turned to reading as a way to help them cope, escape and learn.
Books have been called upon to educate us, equip us and provide us with a means to escape the uncertainty and adversity of these strange times. Perhaps, as theatres, cinemas, gyms and pubs were closed, the public has had more time to (re)discover a taste for reading as the oddly long days and short weeks of lockdown continued.
Fiction has given us an escape. Non-fiction has given us an education.
Says Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin Random House, UK,
“The habit of reading will only get stronger. The way [publishers] connect with readers might be different, but the end result will be the same: people want books to inform, to escape, to comfort and to entertain.”
Bestsellers have demonstrated the depth of feeling about world events and keenness to learn and advocate for change, as Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Humankind and White Fragility soared atop the non-fiction best-seller charts, along with Adam Kay’s Dear NHS. Even Tomos Roberts’ (Tomfoolery) spoken word poem, which he first performed online via a YouTube video in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, has been turned into a book. The Great Realisation was viewed over 60 million times, its message of positivity capturing the hearts of children and adults all over the globe.
With Uncertainty Comes Possibility
An example of the solidarity and kindness with spread through the UK as we did our bit to flatten the curve included some publishers doing their bit to give back, despite their own struggles. Hachette donated nearly 30,000 books, by giving free e-books to NHS workers and partnering with Neighbourly to help charities and local communities who found it most difficult to access books during lockdown.
Ebook and audio book revenues for many publishers has grown throughout the crisis as publishers with digital strategies have seen increased demand for digital resources, audio and e-books during the pandemic.
And it will come as no surprise that Amazon has benefited greatly from the pandemic. According to The BookSeller magazine, “Amazon has reported a 40% rise in net sales for the second quarter compared to the same time last year, while operating income soared by 87%.”
Demand for books tends to be relatively resilient during economic downturns. That said, uncertainty about what the future holds remains.
Of course, with uncertainty comes possibility. And possibility is written into every book. As Christopher Mozeley said, “When you give someone a book, you don’t give them just paper, ink and glue, you give them the possibility of a whole new life.”
Whether the publishing industry will carve a path to recovery for the rest of the global economy is yet to be seen. Nobody really knows what the next chapter holds, but we’ll keep on reading and writing and turning pages, no matter what.
Because books are essential companions, especially when we are starved of human connection. Books give us the chance to connect with other humans through words on a page, through stories shared and guidance given.
And, with Spring and Summer titles migrated to Autumn and Winter and book launches postponed until the end of the year, lots of new books will be jostling for position, giving avid book readers a wide choice of books to stock their shelves with.
Of course, lockdown also inspired creativity so, as well as reading more during lockdown, we also wrote. A lot.
Those for whom writing a book had long been a much-hoped for bucket-list dream sat down and wrote. They gathered diaries and notes, put together book proposals and submitted them, wrote letters to agents and called them – taking advantage of editors being more responsive to submission than usual during lockdown.
Says literary agent, Paul Feldstein of The Feldstein Agency,
“Being away from the office afforded them more time to respond and to read submissions. I made three deals during March, April and May, which, for our small agency is a lot.”
Seasoned authors and ghostwriters with strong credentials have also found ourselves with sufficient work, despite a few initial hiccups. For example, while I myself had two books prevented from being commissioned after London Book Fair was cancelled, with one publisher sadly going into administration, I continued to ghostwrite a book about adventure, consult on a business book and write a book in my own name about Navigating Loneliness, due out next Spring.
Indeed, each of the ghostwriters at United Ghostwriters havebeen busy throughout lockdown and gratefully so. To be earning self-employed income during these uncertain times has been a blessing.
And while the acquisition process slowed initially due to market uncertainty, as the bounce back of the book trade continues to garner increased confidence and agents and editors continue to work from home, there has never been a better time to get your book proposal in front of an agent or publisher.
If you want to speak to someone about how to get your book written and published, whether you have an idea for a book, have started to write one or simply want to talk about the possibilities, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to meet the ghosts.
Cheryl Rickman writes books to help people fret less and flourish more in life and at work.
Visit www.writer.uk.com or www.CherylRickman.co.uk for more information.