September 29, 2020

Indie bookstores are nervous about the holiday season


Photo of McNally Jackson bookstore by Carl Mikoy licensed under CC BY 2.0

This year has been a garbage fire for everyone, but in the publishing industry, indie booksellers have had a particularly rough go of it. For many indies their business model depended on customers browsing their shelves and the sense of community formed by in-person events and book clubs that in turn built trust and sales. But when Covid-19 forced bookstores to close suddenly and without warning, many stores were left scrambling to set up online ordering and curbside pickup. As Alex Green notes in Publisher’s Weekly, the past six months has seen an unprecedented modernization of the bookselling industry, but now booksellers are worrying that it might all be for nought.

Eighty percent of bookstores surveyed nationwide are open for some form of limited browsing while other stores offer curbside pickup, outdoor browsing or home delivery; but the packed stores of past holiday seasons are things of, well, the past. More than that, however booksellers are concerned about the increasingly delicate supply chain going into the holiday season. As has been reported, with publishers shifting many of their spring books into the fall, there is a backlog at printers that make unexpected reprints all but impossible to fulfill quickly. The combination of a lack of steady foot traffic and an unsure supply chain many independent booksellers are predicting fourth quarter sales to fall flat.

Of course looming over all of this is the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus forcing another shutdown. Something that would be devastating for most indies and their booksellers.

So that was really depressing, but here’s what you can do to help. If you’re planning to do most of your holiday shopping at independent bookstores (which we encourage), get those orders in now. If the book you are planning to gift has already been published, why wait a couple of months to buy it? Order it now. Is the book not out yet? Pre-order it from an indie. As a bonus, this will help head off the whole “unexpectedly needing to reprint” problem. Are you unsure of what to buy and were planning to wander the aisles for hours touching everything until a bookseller helped you? Buy a gift card! Gift cards are especially wonderful because they are an immediate infusion of cash for the stores. (This advice applies to any local retailer you were planning to support this holiday season.) Anyway, this is the year to get your holiday shopping done as soon as possible and smugly relax as everyone else scrambles during what is undoubtedly going to be a weird holiday season.



Alyea Canada is an editor at Melville House.