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Director’s Desk: Publishing in the ‘New Normal’

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by Angela Bole, CEO, Independent Book Publishers Association —

Angela Bole

Exploring how independent publishers have coped and adjusted to the realities of pandemic publishing.

For months, all of us in independent publishing have been discussing how the long-term effects of COVID-19 would contribute to a “new normal.” Yesterday, I was invited by my daily Morning Brew e-newsletter to “enjoy my normal day,” with a wink to the fact that there’s no need to keep speculating on the new normal; we’re living in it. This is it.

The idea of already living in the new normal buttresses this issue of the magazine, where we explore how independent publishers have coped and adjusted to the realities of pandemic publishing. To kick off the conversation, below I’ve shared the seven new realities of book publishing post-COVID as discussed by IBPA podcast host Peter Goodman during a recent episode of Inside Independent Publishing (with IBPA). I invite your reflections, as well. Please email me at angela@ibpa-online.org.

1. Greater adoption of e-books

After years of holding steady and never becoming the print killer they were feared to be, e-book sales have taken off in the last few months.

2. Fewer independent booksellers

Sadly, some of these great indie stores won’t survive. We celebrate the stores that will make it through, but we mourn the ones that won’t.

3. Increased influence of wholesalers

The lockdown has been good for online business. Amazon created a small (and temporary) vacuum by switching its focus to household goods. To compensate, companies, particularly Ingram, have stepped up to help fulfill more orders both to bookstores and to consumers. Wholesalers are now more powerful than ever, and they will likely stay that way.

4. More competition for Amazon

Where there is real new competition to Amazon is in big-box retailers like Target and Walmart. They can sell large numbers of books and do, especially kids’ titles. In the online channel, Bookshop has helped indie booksellers grow their online business exponentially since the pandemic hit, and it could become an important source for sales of print books online.

5. A new world of virtual marketing

Zoom is no longer a substitute for the real thing; it is the real thing, and we’re all discovering its conveniences. With stores closed, publishers are more intent on creating virtual communities. As publishers move more to direct-to-consumer sales, they may discover they don’t need conventional book distribution into the retail trade.

6. The domination of print-on-demand

The pandemic has made it inevitable POD will be an industry game-changer. With fewer bookstores, it makes sense now for publishers to print their books at or near the source of fulfillment (via Lightning Source).

7. A proliferation of author publishers

People are spending more time at home and producing more books. This crowds the marketplace and may again create a line between “real” and “hobby” publishing, but it could create a new industry of people online monetizing their critical acumen and list curation.

Just before Angela Bole became IBPA’s Chief Executive Officer, she was Deputy Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG), which fosters conversation and consensus across all sectors of the book business. Before that, Angela served for two years as BISG’s Associate Director and two years as its Marketing and Communications Manager.

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