There’s not a business in America that’s managed to remain wholly untouched by the coronavirus pandemic (except maybe Zoom), but the publishing industry has been hit particularly hard: with bookstores shuttering and literary festivals around the world being called off, it’s difficult to chart a precise path forward for the future of books—especially as we approach summer, typically a boom season for beach reads and blockbusters.
That said, not all the news is bad: Book sales are surging during lockdown as those in isolation seek an escape reading, and Bookshop—an online book marketplace designed to support independent bookstores that launched in January—has slowly found its footing, emerging as a viable alternative to Amazon.
Portland’s iconic Powell’s Bookshop, which was forced to lay off staff in mid-March, was able to rehire 100 workers based on the strength of online sales. “We’re still adapting to being a fully e-commerce business,” Powell’s owner and CEO Emily Powell told Vogue, adding, “We’ve always felt that our job is, to quote my grandfather, to ‘connect the writer’s hand with the reader’s ear’ and not let our own ego or identity get caught in between. So the question now is, how do we do that without a physical space?” Powell and her staff are using Facebook and Instagram to let authors connect directly with readers about their own reading lists, which, Powell said, “lets them get more intimate than how we would normally present them in-store.”
Booksellers aren’t the only ones turning to online spaces to bridge the quarantine gap. Jennifer Weiner, the bestselling author of over a dozen books, has come up with several Twitter initiatives to promote her new book Big Summer, including a virtual book club and a weekly challah-baking session on Facebook Live. “It was my idea to get this book out as soon as possible, even during quarantine,” said Weiner. “I just thought, this is a book for this moment if ever there was one, and we should get it to people sooner rather than later.”
Absent the help of professional makeup artists and camera operators, Weiner has enlisted some helpers close to home to pull off her virtual operations: her two young daughters. “My twelve-year-old is amazingly adept at makeup,” said Weiner: “She watches YouYube tutorials and is like, ‘I can do your brows’! I didn’t even know what brows were at 12.”
Parenting is taking a front-and-center role for many in the literary world during this crisis, according to Michael Taeckens, a literary publicist and co-founder of Broadside PR. “So many people in this industry are having to juggle working from home with parenting, and their time is stretched much thinner. We definitely get the sense that people are more preoccupied, and a lot of publicists are trying to understand that we need to be a lot more patient during this time of crisis,” said Taeckens.