The Coronavirus crisis has – and will continue to have – a huge impact on every area of life, and independent businesses are no exception. Independent bookshops are among those feeling the effects of their loss of customers and income, caused by closures and cancelled events. This loss in turn affects independent publishers and writers, who rely on sales and publicity from independent bookshops. Many shops cannot afford to deliver their stock, and as such have little to no advantage over companies such as Amazon.
But there are still ways to support independent bookshops in lockdown! Around 160 bookshops are currently offering a delivery service in the UK, York’s very own Blue House Bookshop among them. Bookshops such as Category Is Books in Glasgow have even opted for delivering books by skateboard and bike. Bookshops have also found a way to maintain customer engagement by holding events online, such as The Little Apple Bookshop, who are holding a regular quiz, and The Portal Bookshop, who are running an LGBT+ book club. And these are just the bookshops in York – if you get in touch with your own local bookshop, you might not be surprised to find that there are ways to get involved.
We asked staff from Daunt Books, a London-based family of independent bookshops, what their outlook was for indie bookselling in the future beyond lockdown. “It’s impossible to predict post-lockdown life for bookshops,” said one member of staff, though hoping for “a much improved delivery service” in order to “offer a challenge to the online giants”. Although bookshops have been threatened by companies such as Amazon, Daunt staff conceded that “browsing experience combined with recommendations from friendly, knowledgeable booksellers is a combination that has been sustainable through centuries and I’m sure it will continue for many centuries to come”. Like many independent businesses, we hope that bookshops will rise to adapt to the new virtual literary world that is emerging.
It is clear that, although the outlook for indie bookshops is uncertain, what they contribute to the community is unique and indispensable. “Every town needs a bookshop,” said another Daunt staff member. “Coming into a bookshop should be immediately inspiring and nurturing”. Indeed, the physical experience of browsing for a book is one that cannot be replicated online. But, as we’ve seen from the example of York’s bookshops, community doesn’t have to stop because of being apart. Bookshops continue to function as “hubs of culture and entertainment within their communities”, and will hopefully continue to do what books have always done: provide comfort and togetherness in a time of fear.