The Publishing Industry in 2020

Books and Covid-19

Early, negative news on the publishing industry from April this year was depressing. Lost jobs, delayed releases, cancelled tours, festivals moved online, scratched or abandoned.

Back in April, the Guardian reported a decline of more than 7% in sales values. The newspaper suggested was that the books industry relies on an ecosystem of bookstores, festivals, events and media interest to shift copies. But stores closed, airports stopped operating, and festivals were cancelled. Manufacturing and logistics were also affected with border closures and quarantines implemented.

However, like many industries, publishing rallied and an already burgeoning online sector snowballed. Despite the early doom and gloom, overall sales of adult fiction in Australia are actually up 12% from last year so far. The actual value of sales across all genres is down slightly, but this doesn't include the eBook and growing Audiobook market.

Bookshops and smaller publishers have of course suffered, and the number of titles published in Australia dropped this year also. However some surprising statistics have shown that independent booksellers have done better this year than the large, more ponderous online sellers. Those who moved quickly and rallied online early led the way, although physical books still outsell eBooks. It's important to note the publishers and sellers were already building up their online presence before Covid. However more innovative techniques have been vital. Online festivals, which have been well followed, Zoom book readings, digital awards shows, podcasts and a burgeoning audiobook industry have all kept the industry in the black.

One concern has been the visibility of authors, particularly debut writers. Online sales are weighted towards those with a presence already. In a bookshop, at a festival, in an interview, a new author can be seen and heard but online its much harder. In an online market run by algorithms, new people, ideas and concepts will have fewer opportunities to be seen. Creativity and collaboration can also be lost when your only connection with others in your industry is online.

We hope that the industry can learn to overcome this limitation and adjust more for a digital world that still loves the smell of paper and leather.