Within the publishing industry, no one seems to have it harder than bookstores. In an industry that is already struggling to fight off digital alternatives like Amazon, a pandemic that literally makes it impossible for them to capitalize on what makes their stores unique, is the last thing that these bookstores need. From the very beginning of the pandemic, there were stories of massive layoffs in stores like Powell’s Books in Portland and Strand Bookstore in NYC. While reopening has been difficult, delays in publishing dates and the hampering of the US Postal Service have provided even more challenges to these bookstores. While the BLM movement has brought about a wave of support for Black owned bookstores, even these customers have not been as supportive as they should be.
There have been calls to save the local bookstores all over the country, all trying to give support in different ways. Publishing houses have extended their own support to bookstores through discounts, longer repayment plans, and free shipments of stock. Non-profits like The Book Industry Charitable Foundation raised donations to support independent booksellers that have been directly affected by Covid-19. And Bookshop.org has partnered with independent bookstores to give them a digital platform that can begin to compete with Amazon’s online presence in a time when online shopping has become essential.
Internally, larger bookstores have tried to lend more support to their own employees. Praveen Madan, CEO of Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park CA, has decided that prioritizing his employees is the best approach to keep the store afloat and pledges to raise their salaries over a staggered 5 years. The employees at Elliott Bay Book Company of Seattle, unionized at the very start of the pandemic an attempt to give themselves a voice at the table, which the administration accepted, seeing that their goal was to find common ground and mutual support for each other. And Powell’s union worked with their administration to ensure the prioritized rehiring of laid off and furloughed staff.
Despite these attempts to stabilize the industry, bookstores need a dramatic uptick in sales to survive the pandemic. Local bookstores like Watchung Booksellers, that help to promote reading in the community itself, will only make it out if we actually purchase books from them directly. In times like these, we need to put our money where our mouth is.