If you had told me months ago that I wouldn’t be working on any banquets or major events in May, I would have laughed in your face.
It would have looked something like this.
I had a scholarship banquet and corporate annual meeting on my plate (those I do every year), a product launch, PLUS my son is graduating high school. I was on the fast train to a super stressful May. But now…
I don’t care if they’re calling it the “new normal”, this will never feel normal.
So what does that have to do with book sales?
This pandemic affects the whole planet. When JK Rowling eases her copyright restrictions to allow teachers to read Harry Potter to their students online, you know the world’s a changin’.
Publishers Weekly reported on March 17 that until April 5, Amazon deprioritized book sales and delayed shipment of ordered books, expecting lower sales of print books in lieu of things like staple groceries and cleaning supplies.
On April 19, CNBC reported that books saw the biggest increase in online purchase across all categories with a 295% increase in sales from March to mid April compared to the same period last year. Even surpassing the cleaning supplies at 235%. However, books still only represent 0.01% of all online sales. And books experienced a 777% increase from the beginning of March (before stay at home orders) to the beginning of April (after orders were in place). Their numbers, sourced from Rakuten Intelligence, did not include Amazon, but most other major online retailers.
For the first quarter of 2020, Amazon reported a 17% increase in net sales (all sales not just books) compared to the same period last year. Commentary indicates that the increase may have been higher if it weren’t for expense due to coronoavirus, which should be mostly expensed out in Q1 and not affect Q2 numbers. More disturbing to authors is that among the lengthly list of new and upcoming enhancements and focuses, books only had one bullet. And at that, it was one of the shortest bullet items in the list. It included a brief mention of a new Kindle device with a built-in light and Kindle Unlimited memberships offering first three months free. Much of the list was dedicated to streaming TV, which may indicate where they are putting their money and resources to generate future sales.
And what about the indie bookstores?
In France, they are letting some indie bookstores reopen May 11 after a 94% decrease in sales threatened to leave doors closed forever. In Dallas, bookstore owners are helping each other out by sharing strategies and ideas. The U.K. Booksellers Association has asked the government for help with plenty of advance notice on reopening, PPE, and financial assistance long after reopening. And perhaps the coolest idea came from Ireland, where they have reduced the postage rate for indie bookstores to mail books in order to encourage reading.
So, while online books sales are up, many physical bookstores are making hard decisions and many commentators are talking about a future without the traditional corner bookstore. Scary stuff.
Will print survive? Are audiobooks finally pulling ahead?
Next week, I’ll dissect this topic further with a look at how different book are performing (print, audio, ebook).