The European & International Booksellers Federation (EIBF) has highlighted that the enforced closure of brick and mortar bookshops amid the coronavirus crisis is putting the book trade in a precarious position.
The EIBF has appealed to governments worldwide "to remember the importance of books in our society" and provide support, including financial aid. The organisation, which represents booksellers associations from across Europe and worldwide, said the closure of stores – because books are considered "non-essential" – imposed "a threat to financial sustainability of many businesses in the bookselling industry".
It cited numerous challenges for the book trade arising from no longer having a physical presence, not only eating into profits when already ecnomically "fragile", but meaning some booksellers are now putting their own lives at risk whilst going "above and beyond" to bring books direct to their self-isolating customers.
"Health and safety of all people and communities is top priority for all, but we need to recognise the impact prolonged closure will have on small and medium-sized businesses that rely on physical presence of customers. Booksellers offer an important contribution to communities and society as a whole from educational, cultural, and financial point of view," the EIBF said.
"Many booksellers are going above and beyond to sustain their services to customers – who are currently self-isolating in their homes – but they face numerous challenges. Many bookstores that our members represent have limited, or no, infrastructure to support online sales in these unprecedented times. In addition, while offering home deliveries, they are exposing themselves to higher risks.
"Closure of brick and mortar bookstores compromises their profitability and puts under question their, already fragile, economic situation. Local bookstores greatly contribute to communities and districts, offering needed services, providing job opportunities, and contributing safe meeting spaces that online retailers can’t provide. Ensuring these businesses can overcome these uncertain times is critical to continuous sustainable development of local communities."
The EIBF highlighted the differences in circumstances between traditional booksellers and their online competitors, and it urged governments around the world to step in to protect the industry for the benefit of local communities.
"All booksellers are anxiously waiting to reopen their stores, but they are not willing to compromise their health or the health of their customers and communities they enrich. This puts them at a disadvantage compared to giant online retailers, whose businesses are operating with minimal adjustments," it said.
"We are appealing to governments worldwide to remember the importance of books in our society, and the positive impact bookstores have on local communities, and provide support and financial aid to protect the bookselling industry.
"It is critical we stand together in these uncertain times, as only by supporting each other we will come out stronger in the end."
In the UK, the Booksellers Association rolled out a package of special measures for members and donated £30,000 to the Book Trade Charity for hardship grants. It is currently lobbying the trade and government to "swiftly" improve the financial and cashflow situation for high street booksellers.