L.A. Kennedy

Beyond the story

By Jim Milliot

Book publishing has long been a collaborative business, and that aspect of the industry will be more important than ever as we fight our way through the disruptions caused by the new coronavirus. People in all segments of publishing recognize that they need each other to successfully—and hopefully profitably—acquire, publish, market, and sell books. It is gratifying to see some of the strongest players in the industry lending a hand to colleagues in other areas.

The most notable outreach has been to independent bookstores, an indispensable part of the publishing ecosystem, which operate on very thin margins. James Patterson is spearheading one of the most ambitious efforts to support indies with a group that includes Reese Witherspoon and Reese’s Book Club, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, and the American Booksellers Association. Their aim is to raise millions of dollars to help prevent independent bookstores from closing.

Patterson began the #SaveIndieBookstores initiative by donating $500,000. Binc will distribute the funds raised by May 15. In addition to the SIB campaign, Binc has reported that numerous publishers, organizations, and book lovers have made gifts and pledges totaling more than $1.6 million to provide financial assistance to booksellers and comics retailers.

Authors are also receiving help from a number of organizations. PEN America has relaunched its Writers’ Emergency Fund, a streamlined way of getting cash to writers in acute financial need. So too, Poets & Writers has established the Poets & Writers Covid-19 Relief Fund to provide emergency assistance to writers. The Authors Guild has collected information about the response to Covid-19 by the government, publishers, and the author community on its website and has a page directing writers to sources of economic relief.

With most libraries closed, dozens of publishers and other vendors have stepped up to provide enhanced—and in many cases free—access to e-books, digital audiobooks, and other materials for their patrons. And librarians have answered the call in their communities, expanding their digital collections; offering virtual storytimes for kids, reference services, and book clubs; and extending Wi-Fi hotspots.

In an April 9 Book Industry Study Group webinar on how the publishing supply chain has been performing, Andrew Savikas, president of GetAbstract and BISG board chair, suggested that the most effective way for the industry to get through the Covid-19 crisis is for all sectors 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,” he argued.

To that end, PW has devoted substantial resources to covering all aspects of the pandemic’s impact on the publishing community. The objective is to provide industry members with as much information as possible so they can see which sectors are working best and which are struggling. One thing we have learned is that potential hazards are everywhere.

The first few weeks of reporting on the impact of the virus were depressing, amid the constant drumbeat of major fair and book tour cancellations, unprecedented closings of bookstores, layoffs, furloughs, clogged sales channels, sales declines, and bankruptcies. But there have been some bright spots. Even as it has become more difficult to buy books, the demand for books remains strong. It should come as no surprise that parents who are at home with children turn to books to entertain and educate their kids, while turning to books themselves as a distraction from the (temporary) new normal. Books, indeed, are proving themselves to be essential to the public, if not to all government officials.

To keep books front of mind, PW is proud to start the #BooksAreEssential campaign, which kicked off this weekend. This issue’s cover, by Finnish illustrator Pirita Tolvanen, will be used to drive a series of initiatives to promote books and the importance of books to the culture. We are also working with trade organizations CLMP, IBPA, the Independent Publishers Caucus, and the distributor IPG, plus BookPage, Foreword Reviews, Kirkus, and others to coordinate a social media blitz in support of indie publishers. More news on that in the days ahead.

While there is hope in New York City and elsewhere that the curve is flattening, a full reopening of the economy is probably months away. And more strains on the supply chain are likely as different segments struggle to make ends meet. The only way publishing will make it through to the other side of the pandemic is to remember we are all in this together.

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