The Future of the Book Business: Libraries are closed, no trade shows, what’s next?

George Slowik, the head of Publishers Weekly, on how the coronavirus is affecting the book business; this has been excepted from an interview on

How has the book industry been impacted? The first challenge was the evaporation of the international fairs, the importance being the flow of new books in the future. Those fairs are where the rights are sold for the next season. Bologna [Children’s Book Fair] was the first to cancel and then change its dates further into May, and now they have come up with a virtual trade show, which we created for them. London Book Fair had to cancel as well; they were in April. London is a bigger fair and it’s adult and children’s. Smaller fairs like Leipzig and now Edinburgh, which is well into August, have been canceled. Domestically we lost the Texas Library Association and the American Library Association, so all of our big gatherings around which we do special efforts.

What effect with these cancellations have on the industry? It really slows down future commerce. The book pipeline is an 18-month process probably, and there’s a lot of international trade, particularly the U.S. selling to the rest of the world. We only import about 3% of our books. There’s also the fact that all libraries are closed, an important component of the trade to booksellers, and that most independent bookstores are operating either as curbside operations or as online-only. And to top all that off, Amazon deprioritized books as a product.

What are your biggest concerns? The total collapse of the trade shows. The fact that publishers are pushing back their publishing schedules because so many bookstores and libraries are closed. All author tours are off, so they’re taking it on the nose. As they do, then they pull back on marketing, so we really have to come up with programs for when the market comes back so that we’re right on top of it. We do 9,000 book reviews pre-publication so that they can use that for not only their marketing for the publishers but also for the buying for the booksellers and librarians. Now what was meant to go on sale next week might not be on sale until August, so we’re planning on addressing that timing in various ways on the other end of this pandemic.

Anything else you feel is important? On the whole, I just want to share hope. We’re going to get through this. The book business is a pretty resilient business even through incursions of new media, like when the ebook was going to be the end of the world and then the audiobook was going to be the end of the world. And in fact, those two outlets right now are really helping because they’re boosting sales. We’re content creators and it all comes down to that. You’re going to have 150 or 500 or 1,000 streaming services, but if they have lousy content they’re not going to last. What we have are seasoned publishers doing disciplined content and they just have to weather the storm.

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