In June, with the coronavirus in retreat and with help from the Booksellers Association (BA), we encouraged everyone to #ChooseBookshops as high street retailers looked to reopen. Now, with lockdowns coming in across Ireland and the United Kingdom, we say again, and more loudly than ever, your bookshop needs you.
As this week’s Lead Story (pp06-07) suggests, there is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution to the problems we all now face. In Wales and Ireland, “non-essential” bookshops are shut; in Northern Ireland, they can continue to trade but with footfall hampered by the new restrictions; in Scotland, shops are open but there are a raft of new restrictions, including a two-metre social distancing rule. In England, so far at least, retail is open even as other pursuits are temporarily shut down.
As you would expect from such levels of inconsistency, the impact on trade so far has been mixed. The BA’s #ShopEarly campaign was a smart pivot, and with Nielsen’s numbers showing we are already at November sales levels, there is cause for optimism. Indies have reported “Christmas-busy” levels of business in some areas, with shoppers still willing to visit in-store but also take advantage of the different ways booksellers are now able to sell books, including online, email and phone orders. Bookshops are as flexible as they ever have been; and with the launch of Bookshop.org just around the corner, the cavalry is arriving.
But danger lies ahead. At virtual Frankfurt Book Fair last week, Waterstones m.d. James Daunt described local lockdowns as “devastating”. He pointed to a 75% fall in sales for stores in Liverpool, the first place to enter Tier 3 restrictions. In the meantime, the uncertainty takes its own toll. As a busy Sally Pattle at Far From the Madding Crowd in Linlithgow told us: “We have absolutely no idea what’s around the corner. We’ve got no idea what our next set of restrictions are going to be. We’re just not really sure what to do and what’s for the best.”
So what can we do? Look to the Booksellers Association, and support it in getting resources and information to booksellers. It is a small team working incredibly hard to get ahead of the situation and keep booksellers at the top of the agenda. Adopt a local bookshop (including a chain one), and either visit and buy physically, or virtually. If you are a publisher, author or influencer, consider using Bookshop.org (or an alternative) to push sales towards indies—in the US, Simon & Schuster added “buy” buttons to all its websites leading to the Bookshop.org site, in addition to donating its own affiliate fees to charity. I would go a step further: take down the Amazon links, too.
There is one other key message we need to amplify and understand. Bookshops are open (even when the doors are shut). It is on us to make sure they remain so.