It’s a coronavirus conundrum: Social distancing or self-quarantine means you may not get to your local independent bookstore at the very moment you suddenly have more time to read. What to do?
Bookstores, faced with rapidly declining in-store sales and a cascade of book festival and author tour cancellations, are coming up with creative ways to get their books into customers’ hands, according to a report in Publisher’s Weekly.
Books, Inc., in the Bay Area—where customer-traffic was down, most sharply at its two airport locations—launched a digital initiative offering free shipping on all online orders, and immediately received a strong response from customers.
“For folks that are self-quarantining or don’t feel comfortable in the stores, we want to reach out to them, continue to serve them, and let everyone know how meaningful their support is, especially important when things are so disruptive,” CEO Andy Perham told PW.
Third Place Books, based in the Seattle area—a region hit hard by the coronavirus—has also begun offering free shipping to customers in an attempt to boost flagging sales. The result? “Free shipping has seen a nice uptick in online sales. Customers are sharing it on social media and really seem to appreciate it,” managing partner Robert Sindelar told PW. “Our overall net sales are still down, however.”
Not all booksellers are onboard with the pivot toward online shopping, though. Julie Beddingfield, owner and manager of Inkwood Books Haddonfield, New Jersey, said she was concerned it would ultimately cost her customers. Instead, she is encouraging phone orders for books, to be delivered by the staff. “I might even throw in a galley or something else as a sweetener,” she said.
PW noted that booksellers are responding rapidly, as the virus spreads to regions around the country and affects store programming and consumer behavior in the midst of the prime spring buying season.
Perham, of Books, Inc., however, sounded a hopeful note: “People still need books and they still want books, so anything we can do to connect with people outside our stores is vital,” he said. “In our 170-year history at Books, Inc., there have been earthquakes, fires, and national recessions. We’re resilient and creative I have no doubt that we’ll come through this.”
Amy Reiter is a writer in Brooklyn, New York.