When fears for their industry turned to a baffled optimism last year, publishers began rethinking almost everything they had once taken for granted, from nurturing new literary talent to the way they market books and to sell. Live literary events like signatures and author appearances have been replaced with Zoom, as with so many things. BookExpo, the largest gathering of publishing professionals in the United States, which usually took place in May and attracted thousands of booksellers, publishers, editors, agents, authors and librarians to the Javits Center in New York, has been canceled. The convention center is now used as a mass vaccination center.
“One of the most important things that will change is the reassessment of everything we do and how we do it,” said Don Weisberg, Macmillan’s general manager.
The loss of live authoring events has all but wiped out a significant source of income for bookstores. Virtual events can attract a larger and more geographically diverse crowd and are cheaper for publishers, but online audiences often do not buy the book from the store where it is hosted.
Gayle Shanks, co-owner of Changing Hands in Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona, said the store only sold half a dozen books at virtual book events. At a really good virtual event, they could sell 150 copies – but the same author could personally sell 1,000. Some publishers have started paying their businesses to host virtual events, usually between $ 200 and $ 500, which is roughly what they would make if they sold 20 to 50 books, she said.
Like the big retailers, independent bookstores were flooded with online orders, a welcome spike in business when their doors closed, but one they were poorly set up to manage – some stores were dropping maybe a dozen orders a day last spring to hundreds over. For many of them, online sales growth was still insufficient.