Yesterday we learned that the 2020 International Literacy Association conference, set for October in Columbus, Ohio, has been cancelled. I had been looking forward to being with and presenting with friends and colleagues while also continuing the effort to help establish AFTER DARK, my February 2020 release. I, along with thousands of others, are disappointed to see yet another large gathering of people get crossed off for this year.
This morning I noticed this brief article in the New York Times:
“Independent bookstores were having such a good run: Customers flocked to them not just for reading ideas, but as neighborhood gathering spots. Now the virus is threatening their very existence, Alexandra Alter reports.
If you want to make sure your local store survives the pandemic, you can help by buying your next book online — directly from a local store. Find the store’s website, or search for it through this database. (You can also find stores on Bookshop.org, but stores with their own websites keep more of the money.)”/h5>
The book industry is suffering from the pandemic along with nearly everyone else but Alter’s words remind us that all who value books — to write, to publish, to sell, to read — have a stake in helping where we can. My initial hope was that while people have had to stay home there would be a rush on buying and reading books, particularly to children. Maybe that’s true. The article doesn’t reference that kind of information, but while folks can’t get to their library or book store, Amazon and other online stores may be seeing a spike in their book sales.
That leads to two thoughts.
During the health crisis, authors, illustrators, and publishers who depend on promoting their latest releases have lost most of their traditional opportunities. No conferences. No store signings. No school visits. No library programs. More than ever, book lovers have had to shop online among several million choices of titles old and new. While browsing through selections, prospective buyers may scan what industry reviewers have to say about the book and then they may check out comments left by previous readers. Everything else being equal, titles with more reader reviews have a better chance of being chosen over those with fewer. After working its way through the 4- to 5-year process from author’s brain to market, it seems safe to say that during the pandemic, more than ever, the chance for a new book to succeed online can be seriously impacted by the good will of readers who take the time to post reviews of books they have enjoyed and recommend to friends. As online shopping replaces more and more traditional retail stores, anyone with a product to sell must learn how today’s shoppers think and what effects their choices.
The second thought goes back to the article in the New York Times. If and as online book buying seems like the buyer’s best choice, I hope people will remember to buy through their local book stores. When I go into the Barnes & Noble a few blocks from our house, I see the coffee shop filled with people, some reading newspapers or scanning books, college students doing homework, small groups holding meetings, and that’s before I walk up and down the aisles admiring the brainchildren of thousands of men and women who have given large portions of their lives to create books. You can’t have that experience online. You have to be there. But if you can’t be there now, let’s do all we can to make sure the experience of going to a book store will be there waiting for us when we can return.