August 25, 2021

Continued Covid crisis catalyzes e-book sales; fallout feared


A 19th-century illustration of a bookshop. Establishments such as the one pictured were the forerunners of the stores whose business is now threatened by the resurgent pandemic.

As the coronavirus returns to center stage, like the killer in a teen horror movie, except a lot less fun, an unsurprising rise in e-book sales has followed.

According to the American Booksellers Association, sales for the first full week in July reflected a 13.3 percent increase in e-book sales. The ABA soberly explained that the “increase in web traffic” was the result of customers moving “their purchases back online to avoid infection.”

Well, yes. The devastation wrought by the coronavirus and the shut-down has been practically inestimable (OK, fine, a study from the University of Southern California put the total at between $3 and $4 trillion), with nary an industry left unaffected.

The news is particularly discouraging, however, for bookstores and publishers, who rely on the relatively higher profit margins of physical book sales to keep the lights on. And the majority of e-book sales go through a single online retailer, which doesn’t help matters.

Book-lovers of all stripes were looking for this fall to be a monster season, with many postponed titles finally seeing the light of day and increased bookstore traffic, readings, events, and good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation driving sales. (We here at Melville House have a particularly delectable lineup on tap.)

Where will it end? And what to do in the meantime? Well, for starters, the ABA has a portal where you can petition state and Federal politicians to continue support for independent bookstores and other retailers.

More directly, of course, you can continue to buy print books online, with many indie stores offering either shipping or socially distant pickup windows. You could also, if you like, do your shopping at, an e-commerce platform specifically designed to support indie booksellers. And finally, you can even order direct from the publisher, in which case your purchase might even be packed and mailed with love by, say, a smart and friendly operations manager! See that? Hope in dark times!



Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.