Booksellers in the Midst of the Pandemic

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There are various types of booksellers. Each is equipped with unique parameters for analyzing whether to carry certain titles and genres. Bookstores take customer demand into consideration when deciding whether to put different types of written work for sale. Booksellers either have their physical stores, online stores, or both.

Another factor to consider when gauging how the coronavirus pandemic has affected—if it ever has—is the preferences of consumers when it comes to the purchase and subsequent consumption of written media. History’s first attempt at transcribing symbols onto movable materials such as stone tablets was done in 3500 BC. In modern times, the said symbols come in physical books. They can also be accessed through computers and handheld devices and are called “e-books” or “electronic books.”

What are the typical types of booksellers?

The first type is the independent booksellers. Commonly, these bookstores are small- to medium-sized enterprises operating domestically. The range of titles they put up for sale depends on the store size and customer demand. As an attempt to secure revenue, bookstores under this type focus on titles with established sales records along with local selling titles. They also cater to the interests of their customers. An example of this type is the Nashville-based Parnassus Books.

The second type is the online booksellers. This group includes the Bezos-owned Amazon.com, an e-commerce giant that started through selling books alone. The website caters to all titles and genres because of their wide consumer base. Apart from the online shopping website, there are also sellers of books online specializing in certain customer segments. Independent booksellers can be under this type because they are also allowed to sell their products online.

Another type is the special market booksellers. These sellers are very selective when it comes to displaying titles for sale. The typical seller of this kind puts titles beside promotional products. An example is a store that sells materials for paper crafting. They put how-to books on paper crafting beside tools such as stamps, specialty paper, folding bones, and markers.

Aside from the types of booksellers already mentioned, there are also booksellers that are based on subscription, non-bookstore retailers that sell books, big-box stores such as Walmart and Target, price clubs, and off-price retailers that sell remaindered books at prices lower than the suggested retail prices.

How is the pandemic affecting these sellers? 

Due to nonessential businesses being ordered to close indefinitely as a measure to curb COVID-19, independent booksellers, especially those without online stores, were thrown into a downward spiral. Closing stores means no customers, and no customers automatically equate to a decrease in revenue. 

But some independent bookstores are putting up a fight by relying on the Internet to sell their products. Booksellers that aren’t Barnes & Noble will find online selling a nightmare because it barely survived the battle when online bookshops rose in popularity. The existence of Amazon makes it even more of a challenge.

The situation has called for independent booksellers to create and maintain a presence online, where they can continue selling books. Special market booksellers, big-box stores, and others have capitalized on the rising popularity of cooking and gardening among consumers.

How are the preferences of the consumers affected?

The shelter-in-place orders are especially beneficial to online sellers of books and e-books because of the convenience they come with. Their products are accessible to people who are practically barred from going outside for nonessential business. Moreover, physical bookstores are unable to operate. If they are allowed, they won’t be able to accommodate the usual number of customers.

Nevertheless, the popularity of e-books has not surpassed that of physical books. Such is the case despite the existence of devices designed for digital book consumption such as Amazon’s Kindle. The stable popularity of physical books, according to a UK-based managing director of a booksellers’ association, is attributed to the book consumer’s desire to get away from their screen. They try to satiate their hunger for information by reading books made for traditional consumption.

In summary, the selling and purchasing dynamics are affected, albeit insignificantly, by the coronavirus pandemic. This can be attributed to the lockdowns mandated by governments that forced people to stay home. People and their desire for normalcy during uncertain times affect the way they behave as consumers. They gravitate toward products that give them positive feelings and reminders of good experiences. This affects booksellers because book consumption, whether digital or physical, can reduce stress and helps take consumers away from their actual surroundings.

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