COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021

January 5th, 2021

When COVID-19 hit in early 2020, the press coverage was overwhelming. The trusted book publishing media, including Publishers Weekly, Publishing Perspectives, Publishers Lunch, The Bookseller in the U.K. and Quill & Quire in Canada, each did a fine job of monitoring developments within publishing and bookselling.

Then, early in the pandemic, Amazon prioritized what it deemed to be essential items and let book order fulfillment lag. This caught my attention: here was an impact that was not occasioned by anything that publishers were doing wrong, but was strictly an external force that (in the short term) had a major negative impact on publishing sales. But then it emerged that some booksellers were able to take advantage of the disruption, and with innovations like curbside pick-up, gain some much-needed retail sales.

Meanwhile the pandemic was wreaking havoc with many traditional retailers. That, in turn, was weakening the retail mall sector, which in turn could have a negative impact on chain bookstore sales.

The crisis in Washington was blocking aid to the states, which in turn threatened public library budgets. But the disruption in colleges and university face-to-face instruction proved to be a boon to digital sales for McGraw Hill, Pearson and Cengage.

The move to Zoom has, overnight, made many people comfortable with organizing and participating in online events, which has created an opportunity for authors to promote their books in new ways.

And so I got to thinking that a really interesting report on COVID-19 and book publishing would start from the outside and look in, rather than the other way around. Economic developments, retail shifts, both online and brick-and-mortar, and developments in technology, have much to tell the book publishing industry moving into 2021.

I joined forces with two colleagues, Cliff Guren and Steve Sieck, both well-established publishing industry consultants. Between us we have produced a 50-page report available for free download below. (We considered charging for the report, but far more people can be reached this way, and, we hope that the report will stimulate a conversation within the industry.)

The report is available for download in two digital formats, a traditional PDF page replica, and as a Born Accessible EPUB 3 file.

While this is just a standard EPUB ebook for sighted users—with no DRM, so you should be able to read it on all ebook reading systems and apps—it is also fully accessible to print-disabled users using assistive technology.

By providing a single file for all readers of the report, including print-disabled readers, publishers eliminate the need to create multiple files for different readers, and the associated cost.