Reading and writing in a pandemic economy

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.

. . .

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).

. . .

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.

13 thoughts on “Reading and writing in a pandemic economy

  1. Well, I’m busily writing a chicken-themed light humor short, SF, for an anthology a friend cooked up on a whim. She thinks – and I agree – that something fun and fluffy is a great idea about now. She’s accelerating the deadline, but I am confident the end result will be quality based on the other authors jumping in for fun.

    I’ve put some of my work on sale, which may or may not help. I’m also going to promote KU. In a world of a limited book budget, that service is invaluable. And far cheaper than, say, cable. I’ve started to review things on my blog, because that gives folks some fun to look for. Escapism is necessary and healthy right now. Which is probably an essay unto itself…

    I can’t be a far-reaching voice. But ever since you encouraged me to keep up the blog, I’ve thought of it as a small oasis my readers could come to and rest in. I don’t really do politics, rarely do controversy. It’s mostly light and fluffy and happy. Because that’s who I am. Ok, mostly the fluffy part. LOL!

    1. Teenage Mutant Kung-Fu Chickens!
      Big as a house, strong as the dickens
      Anything they want is easy pickin’s
      Teenage Mutany Kung-Fu Chickens!

      – Ray Stevens

  2. I put two books on Free – _Familiar Tales_ and _Shikari_. To my surprise, _Shikari_ absolutely flew out the door! 200 downloads, 176 the first two days. I dropped the price on the next two in the series, since they are appropriate for younger teens as well as adults. I also lowered prices on a few other titles.

    1. I am still working, with more-panicked-than-usual pilots. (with good reason, but.. sigh.)
      By the time I get home, all I want is to have a drink, a little mindless entertainment, a long shower and some quiet time with my husband.

      I need to get my books on sale. I also need to do the laundry, and untangle what went wrong in the latest chapter and rewrite it with the fix, and…

      I’ll probably get the laundry done. At least before I run out of pants?
      ..and the chapter, eventually?

  3. I put my three longest books at half-price in their Kindle version – the Adelsverein Trilogy and the two Luna City compendiums. Oregon Muse at the Sunday Morning Book Thread at Ace of Spades HQ is going to promo them on Sunday – so I expect another uptick in sales from that. Alan B. at the Authors’ Marketing Guild is holding a series of on-line marketing events.

  4. When is Peter’s last 2 books in the Cochrane series going to be on sale in Paper?

  5. I’m still writing. Thinking I should really get my act in gear and hurl Time’s Traitor out the door soon.

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