Does publishing have a future?

 When Lockdown began on 23rd March, Waterstones closed its 280 branches. Independent bookshops did the same. Supermarkets focussed on food and stopped ordering from publishers. Amazon did the same.

Publishers furloughed staff because there was little work to do. Newspapers saw the dwindling numbers of books for review. Publication of new titles has been delayed, and there is no news of when everything will be, if ever, back to normal.

People claim books have helped them get through lockdown. Most publishers record an increase in e-books sales via their website and sometimes wonder if Amazon’s monopoly can be broken. Literary agent Johnny Geller has been saying for 20 years, "Why not go into direct selling?”

Some publishers dismiss the idea as too complex and expensive, but others are talking about it after Amazon turned off the supply tap.

Authors are used to self-isolation, but it is hard to know what to write. Some who have been recently published feel their books have disappeared into a black hole. Others think that fewer books on the scene have helped them. The book promotion trail is non-existent, and literary festivals have fallen by the wayside.

Some independent bookshops ie Forum Books in Corbridge, have got together a series of events on Facebook Live. There are other online events around, but the usual camaraderie of a drink after the talk is over is just not possible.

Supermarkets and Amazon are getting back to normal now. Commercial fiction is doing well. In some quarters there is an assumption that the market will be down 70% in the second quarter of the year, and 50% in the third. They hope the fourth quarter will be close to normal.

 Recent experience has shown that people can work from anywhere and more can be done online. The next decade may be interesting as far as publishing is concerned. It would be nice to see some regional  offices scattered around the country rather than everything being centred in London.


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