I was very interested to read how bookstores are coping with the challenges of a coronavirus-hit economy. The BBC writes about “How bookshops are helping with isolation“. I’m going to quote from their article at some length, to illustrate how innovation and enthusiasm can compensate for other problems.
As Covid-19 spreads around the world … bookshops are rapidly closing their stores – some because they have been told to, others through choice to protect the health of their customers and staff. Those that have been able to keep their doors open have seen a significant drop in footfall. Yet, with people stuck at home and in need of distraction and escape, books suddenly feel more vital than ever – and booksellers by their very nature are resilient and creative folk. So they are coming up with new ways to serve their customers and communities, from ramping up their delivery service and dropping off orders by bicycle, to recreating their community spaces on social media, recommending the perfect books for those stuck in self isolation and running virtual events.
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On social media, movements like IndieBound are connecting readers to bookshops, and showing people how they can support their local store, from ordering books online and buying gift cards to signing up for newsletters and pre-ordering new releases.
In the UK, Books Are My Bag have led a huge drive to promote the initiatives of indie bookstores, using the hashtag #ChooseBookshops. These include Norwich’s The Book Hive, offering curated self-isolation packs and Bath’s Mr B’s Emporium – which has called itself ‘Non-Contact Open’, rather than ‘Closed’ – featuring a collection of Staying Home?-themed lists of books on their website for those looking for inspiration.
While Amazon has announced plans to temporarily de-prioritise book orders in favour of household supplies, independent bookstores are stepping up their delivery strategy. Many booksellers are getting an extra workout as they dash around town on their bikes – one staff member at Abingdon’s Mostly Books covered 75km in a week delivering literary packages. South London bookshop Kirkdale has roped in a literary agent to help dispatch orders while Glasgow’s indie LGBTQIA+ bookshop Category Is Books is delivering by skateboard, too (though perhaps the prize for most novel delivery method goes to the Kiruna bookshop in Sweden, which is dispatching books by kick-sled).
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Perhaps one small comfort for booksellers is that they are fighting this together. In Daegu, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea, three bookshops joined together to provide a secret delivery service for customers, with a book personally selected by each shop and delivered with packets of tea to self-isolators.
It’s not just adult readers affected by bookshop closures, but children too. In the town of Kyneton in Victoria, Australia, Squishy Minnie is used to up to 100 kids cramming into the shop for a weekly story hour – some feat for a place with a population of 6,000. When owner Kristen Proud made the decision to shut up shop, she wanted to keep the community connected, so they have moved their story-time to YouTube. “After our first one went live we had an overwhelmingly positive response, with many people in self isolation contacting us with photos of their children enjoying it and people thanking us for keeping some routine in their lives.”
The shop has also moved their bookclubs online, and are offering free delivery for an area covering almost 1,750 sq km. “For us it is about being flexible but maintaining as much consistency as possible. I don’t know if we will survive, I have no idea. But if we are going to, keeping our bookish community connected is the only way.”
There’s much more at the link.
The bold, underlined print in the final paragraph above is my emphasis. Please re-read those words, because they’re critically important for all of us as independent authors. We’re facing precisely the same challenges as those bookstores, and we need to be equally innovative in responding to them if we’re to remain a viable alternative to the creaking, groaning, overburdened traditional book sector.
I note that many indie authors are cutting prices and holding sales in an effort to get affordable reading matter to their fans. Unfortunately, in an environment so dominated by the “doom, gloom and disaster” fetishists in the news media, our message probably isn’t getting through to a wider community. In fact, I was surprised to see the BBC (a mainstream media representative if there ever was one!) devoting time on its Web site, this week of all weeks, to an article about books and readers like the one I cited above. I’m very pleased it’s there, of course, but I’ve found nothing similar in US national media. That may be a telling point about respective national reading cultures, of course.
I’m also worried about the sudden rush of pandemic-themed books. Most that I’ve seen are very badly written, clearly rushed out in an attempt to make money out of the current crisis. Frankly, we’d be better off if they’d never been written at all, because some are so dire as to put new readers off reading for a very long time! Others are supposed to be informational books, that turn out to be merely a rehash of news articles containing little or nothing of value. There’s even coronavirus-themed porn, for heaven’s sake! (Yes, that link is safe for work.) Talk about feverish desire . . .
I think it would be interesting to see what Mad Genius Club authors and readers are doing to promote reading and writing during this pandemic. Do any of us have ideas as creative as those uncovered by the BBC, or as innovative? Please tell us about them in Comments, so we can all learn from them.