Like the rest of the book publishing industry, religion presses are navigating severe disruptions and challenges caused by the coronavirus outbreak—chief among them being decreased sales via Amazon. The online retail giant announced last month a focus on essential items, consisting of an unspecified list of household goods most-needed in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, items that are not high priority are taking longer than usual to both be stocked and shipped.
“Amazon’s deemphasis of general trade books has obviously hurt our business significantly,” Michael Kerber, president of Red Wheel Weiser, tells PW. Kerber recognizes Amazon’s need to prioritize essential items, and noted that Amazon’s warehouse workers deserve praise as frontline workers, but says the retailer’s suppression of books is depriving customers of much needed sustenance.
“Books feed our mind, they nourish our soul, they inspire, they transport us to new worlds when we can’t leave our homes, they provide an essential service to all,” he says.
RWW is partnering with other online sellers such as Bookshop.org to connect readers to books. The publisher is also offering a dropship rebate service to bookstores across the country that want to promote RWW titles, according to Kerber. Additionally, RWW titles are available at barnesandnoble.com for immediate shipping.“Quite frankly, I must say I am surprised that B&N has not been promoting widely that barnesandnoble.com is open for business and that they consider books essential,” Kerber observes.
Tyndale has had a sales decrease on Amazon over the past few weeks, says Sharon Heggeland, corporate v-p for sales and operations. “We have worked to maximize sales at Amazon by also turning on the direct fulfillment program for key titles,” she tells PW. “In addition, we have worked hard to partner with other customers and to maximize sales on our own website.”
Devin Maddox, v-p of book publishing at B&H, is relying heavily on its parent company, Lifeway Christian Resources, and its digital retail channels during the global pandemic.
"Of course, like every publisher, we are negatively impacted if Amazon is not in a position to ship books,” Maddox says. “However, we have been fortunate during COVID-19 to have a robust proprietary trade channel in LifeWay.com and our own distribution center, which allows us to continue serving readers directly, without disruption, with both our books (B&H) and those from our ministry partners at other companies."
Though most religion houses are experiencing a sales slump of physical books on Amazon, digital sales are on the rise, says Tom Knight, senior v-p, sales, at HarperCollins Christian Publishing. “We have seen increases in both audio and e-books as consumers look for immediate access to the content they need,” he says.
Further, sales of children's activity and educational books are on the rise as parents embrace a homeschool environment, according to Knight. He also points out an increased interest in what he calls “comfort” books: “Authors such as Max Lucado, Lysa TerKeurst, and Sarah Young have been able to provide much needed relief to readers,” he says. “We’ve also seen an increase in the sales of books such as Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey as people work through financial ramifications from this situation.”
Meanwhile, not all religion houses are experiencing decreased sales via Amazon. Nikko Odiseos, president of Shambhala Publications, says the Buddhist press is seeing rapid fulfillment of its books, despite the e-tailer’s displayed delivery dates of two to three weeks.
“It is unclear if this is due to our core categories being ‘prioritized’ or not, but it is certainly the case that Amazon is under-promising but over-delivering,” he says. “April billing to Amazon is actually up from this time last year, but it’s impossible to know if that’s predictive.”
Shambhala is distributed by Penguin Random House, which Odiseos says is reporting a steady supply chain from their warehouses into both Amazon and Ingram.