Organized in response to the pandemic, the Book Industry Study Group hosted a 90 minute video chat April 9 to discuss the results of a survey about the impact of the Covid-19 on the publishing supply chain.
The results of the survey of 241 respondents covered every aspect of the supply chain from publishing and retail to libraries and manufacturing. The survey showed an industry reeling from canceled orders and loss of revenue, layoffs and furloughs of staff, and the potential loss of a significant number of independent bookstores, according to Andrew Savikas, president of GetAbstract and chair of the BISG board of directors.
The video chat attracted just over a 100 listeners and featured survey responses to questions on how Covid-19 had changed their business, dealing with social restrictions and the solutions being discussed in the aftermath. Speaking to the publishing sector, Andrea Fleck-Nisbet, publisher of Harper Horizon, an imprint of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, said that while orders are slowing from retailers, “we still see demand in areas like cookbooks,” and cited the importance of using remote communications tools to “create new work flows and maintain a business.”
Dan Kok, senior v-p of Crossway, a Christian publishing house, said “we have seen shutdowns with some distributors, but we are still running our own distribution facility, as are most publishers with their own distribution centers. Most of our outside distribution is throttled, but open.” He said Crossway employees were having weekly meetings with other local Christian publishers “to share what’s up and support each other even though we’re competitors to a certain degree.”
In the manufacturing/printing segment, Michael Shea, senior v-p at printer LSC Communication, said reprint orders were dropping, first printings delayed, and previously scheduled plans for press time have all been “blown up. Everything is changing constantly until we figure out the retail environment.” Shea added: “Where do you store books when they aren’t being shipped out,” he said. In addition to industry challenges, Shea said printers also must deal with “employee anxiety over getting sick. It’s hard to keep staff engaged.”
BISG executive director Brian O’Leary gave the retail overview citing the possible loss of many indie bookstores in the wake of the pandemic and the shift to online ordering by consumers. Indeed, nearly 50% of college bookstores have closed, he said. O'Leary suggested the retail sector needed a bigger commitment from big publishers to support bookstores, possible debt forgiveness, and even floated the possibility of new retail models, such as establishing minimum retail pricing. There was also some suggestions by callers that despite the “deprioritization” of books, Amazon was delivering books to customers faster than it has indicated.
Kelvin Watson, director of Broward County Libraries division, said libraries have essentially halted the purchase of physical books and are switching all purchasing to digital content. Libraries, he said, are focused on digital lending, adding online storytimes for children, and on remote learning going forward.
Overall, there was much praise about the ability of staffers throughout the supply chain to quickly adapt to working remotely on video platforms such as Zoom. But distribution, said Sam Dempsey of distributor Baker & Taylor, “can’t be done from home.” He described a warehouse situation during a pandemic, which now includes “staff checks for temperature, disinfecting spaces, and fewer staffers available due to furloughs.”
Nevertheless, the utility of remote videoconferencing (and the adjustments some departments like production might need) was cited throughout the presentation. Rebecca Burgoyne, executive director of United Methodist Publishing in Nashville, discussed how the house had gone “completely remote,” and the need to communicate to staff the urgent need to “make changes without frightening people.”
Maureen McMahon, president and publisher of Kaplan Publishing, and past chair of BISG, said working remotely would eventually “help diversity. It’s expanded our reach. There’s a lot you can do with Zoom.” She called e-books and the demand for digital the “heroes” of the crisis and outlined forthcoming “opportunities” including sharing best practices, cloud-based workflows, data portals and business continuity plans.
Other suggestions for “next steps” included a Covid-19 status page on the BISG website and more virtual meetings to brainstorm solutions. O’Leary said the organization was dropping membership restrictions for participating on BISG committees, inviting volunteers “to hear first-hand what’s happening.” In addition, an audio recording of the videoconference as well as the results of the survey will be archived on the BISG website.
Savikas closed the chat by citing the biggest takeaway of the survey—the need for all sectors of the industry to communicate and work together. “Transparency and collaboration. The more we do both, the better chance we have of coming through all of this and becoming a better industry.”
Correction: Dan Kok's comments in an earlier version of this story have been corrected.