While several industries, such as music and film, have taken a beating thanks to the coronavirus crisis, the pandemic has arguably been kinder to the books industry. Sales of books have soared since the lockdown was imposed, with Waterstones’ sales quadrupling in the last month. Books are proving to be a popular choice of entertainment during quarantine, especially as a form of escapism from the current bleak climate.
This is good luck for the book retailers, but not so much for authors who may have been eagerly awaiting the day their new books are published. Many book releases, as well as book tours and events like the London Book Fair and Hay Festival, have been postponed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The question is though, is there a reason for publishers to do this? Could there be some kind of alternative, such as publishing the books as eBooks with a physical publication pencilled in for after lockdown has ended?
The answer to this might depend on the type of book in question. Some genres sell better in eBook form than others; sales data has revealed that romance, crime and thriller novels tend to do well as eBooks. Whereas cookery books and children’s books, for example, do better as print books. Even so, there might be potential disadvantages if publishers were to release new titles exclusively in a digital format.
We enjoy aspects of physical books beyond the stories inside them
Reading is one past time that has resisted technological advances to an extent. Sales of print books overtook sales of eBooks in 2017 and as far back as 2015, Waterstones stopped selling Kindles when people stopped buying them. It appears that consumers want a break from screens when they sit down to read, especially if they read before bed and the blue light from a screen could keep them awake. We enjoy aspects of physical books beyond the stories inside them: holding them, displaying them on our shelves, lending them to others, even smelling them.
Plenty of people still read eBooks, which we can be certain of given that they did sell better than print books in the not so recent past. Perhaps people will be willing to dust off the Kindles they have left lying around if a book which they have been desperate to read is being released exclusively as an eBook. After all, doesn’t the story itself matter more than the medium through which you read it? Likewise, we have had to change our habits plenty enough thanks to the lockdown – we could easily adapt further.
In addition, there may be another way of resolving the issue. Some books, for example Holly Bourne’s new novel Pretending, have still been released in print despite the quarantine. If distribution and the printing process isn’t disrupted by coronavirus, there appears to be no reason why new books can’t be published as normal. They will sell well even if they can only be ordered online, especially since people are in need of entertainment and want something to look forward to. If not, which is certainly possible, it might be necessary for publishers to think again.
The act of going out to a cosy bookshop is as attractive to people as buying a new book
Moreover, would there be any point in putting out a physical edition of a book later than an eBook? While consumers might not actively choose to wait until a print version of an anticipated release comes out, there is still arguably a point to doing this. People don’t always enter bookshops with a specific book in mind to buy, just with their own personal tastes or a certain kind of story. The act of going out to a cosy bookshop is as attractive to people as buying a new book, and people will be bound to return there as soon as they are set free from being cooped up at home.
Ultimately, if publishers can put a book out and it is logistically viable, they should try to do so. Demand is surging, and both they and the authors could use some extra money if they can get it. On the other hand, if a book won’t sell well as an eBook, such as a cookbook or photo book, delaying publication might be the only option. As unfortunate as it might be for this to happen, making a profit will be especially vital for publishers if a recession is likely to hit in the coming months. They will have to try to stay afloat in every way even if it means disappointing people.