The publishing industry scrambled last week to keep pace with the rapidly changing developments brought on by the deepening new coronavirus crisis. With the virus strengthening its grip on the New York City metropolitan area, show organizer ReedPop moved BookExpo, Unbound, and BookCon from their original dates of May 27–31 to July 22–26, when they will be held at the Javits Center in New York. “We are committed to running a show for this industry and the fans this year,” said event manager Jenny Martin in a statement. “What will that show look like? We are not exactly sure yet. But we believe we will be on the other side of [the coronavirus outbreak] and ready to get together and do what we love to do: discover, discuss, celebrate and connect through books. If the situation changes again between now and July, we will change along with it.”
The announcement of the change of dates came shortly after Penguin Random House said it would not attend the show, citing guidance from New York City and New York State “to substantially limit the size of events and number of participants in public gatherings” in the wake of the continued spread of the coronavirus. PRH said it regretted making the decision but added that the company “will be exploring additional ways to connect with booksellers, librarians, and readers going forward.”
A major concern for publishers that arose last week is their business with Amazon. The online giant said it is focusing on restocking household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products. As a result, Amazon sent a letter to suppliers, including most publishers, indicating that from roughly March 17 through April 5, they should expect to see both reduced purchase orders and extended delivery windows for existing purchase orders.
The news from Amazon came just as some of the country’s best-known independent bookstores announced temporary closures, among them the McNally Jackson, Posman Books, Powell’s, the Strand, and Tattered Cover. Many stores were seeing spikes in online sales and were hoping to reopen before too long, but firm timetables were difficult to establish. Powell’s announced it expected its five stores to be closed for at least eight weeks. To help laid-off booksellers cope, the American Booksellers Association donated $100,000 to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, and HarperCollins contributed $50,000 to the organization, whose mandate is to provide financial aid to booksellers in need.
Among the chains, Barnes & Noble closed a few stores in locations where there were quarantines or similar local ordinances. B&N CEO James Daunt told PW he is confident the retailer can continue to be a profitable venture with one provision: that it is allowed to keep its stores opened. “If the U.S. goes the way of Italy and France, that would be difficult to overcome,” he added, referring to the decision in those countries to close down all but essential businesses. To Daunt, books and bookstores should be considered vital businesses. “Books are crucial during this period,” he said, noting that they provide both education and diversions for people stuck at home.
Since the virus outbreak, sales of children’s books have been very strong, Daunt said, especially in education-related areas. In fact, sales for the entire core book business are up, though those gains have been offset by a plunge in café business and a decline in some other nonbook areas. Online sales have also risen dramatically, Daunt said.
Half Price books closed all 126 of its outlets to customers until March 31 but will continue to allow curbside pick up of books and, in some markets, will make deliveries to people’s homes. In Canada, Indigo closed all of its outlets from March 18 to 27, though its online arm will continue to operate.
The beginning of store closings paired with a weakening economy led to a 10% decline in unit sales at outlets that report to NPD BookScan for the week ended March 14 compared to the previous week. Of the four major categories, only the juvenile nonfiction segment had a sales gain over the week ended March 7. The 1.9% unit sales increase in the category was helped by gains in the education/reference/language area, where sales were up 38%, and the games/activities/hobbies segment, where units rose 25%.
Unit sales in the juvenile fiction category had nearly a 15% decline in the week ended March 14 compared to the previous week. No segment within the category posted a sales gain, with the largest declines coming in the concepts and classics segments.
Adult nonfiction unit sales fell 12% in the week ended March 14 from the previous week. Only two segments in the category had gains: sales in biography/autobiography/memoirs rose 10%, and sales of self-help titles increased 0.4%. The biggest decline came in the travel segment, where units fell 30%. Adult fiction sales fell a relatively modest 3.9% in the week. The action/adventure segment saw sales jump 38%, while general fiction sales increased almost 8%. The genres with the biggest print unit declines were generally the ones in which e-books are the most popular. The fantasy segment had the largest drop in print units, which were off almost 22%. Romance, westerns, and mystery/detective also had double-digit declines.
The combination of limits on the size of public gatherings and a reluctance to travel led to most all author tours and events being canceled. B&N, for example, canceled all events through April 30. That left publishers to scramble to arrange virtual tours for its authors.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt canceled a 20-city tour planned for its big book of the spring, Chosen Ones, the first adult book by Veronica Roth, author of the megaselling Divergent YA franchise. To replace in-store visits, the publisher is organizing select regional virtual events featuring Roth with conversation partners from around the country. HMH is suggesting that readers purchase the book through the original bookstore hosts, and it will work with the stores to copromote and produce the virtual events. According to HMH, Roth was signing finished books and/or bookplates for all attendees and sharing updates across her social media.
After more than a dozen literary festivals were canceled in less than 24 hours, three children’s authors made sure that one was also born. The Everywhere Book Festival, a completely digital kids’ lit festival, will be held May 1–2 with more than 50 participating authors and illustrators. Authors Melanie Conklin, Ellen Oh, and Christina Soontornvat hatched the idea when word reached them that their book tours had been canceled. “We were so disappointed and started talking about what we could do online to recreate a festival experience,” Oh said. When she sent a tweet out to gauge interest, the response was overwhelming.
The logistics of organizing a digital festival are new to the authors, but “thanks to modern video streaming, it turns out a lot is possible,” Conklin said. For support, they turned to the organizers at WriteOnCon and the Educator Collaborative Gathering, who regularly organize virtual conferences.
The authors have recruited 100 volunteers to help ensure that the festival goes smoothly, and a call for author and illustrator event proposals was posted on Twitter (@everywherefest) as well as a website (everywherebookfest.com). The organizers are also setting up ways for the festival to benefit independent booksellers. “A book festival is not complete without the wonderful booksellers who provide the audience with a chance to get a signed copy of an author’s book,” Oh said.