• The Publishing Post

Bookshops in Lockdown

Many of us have certainly found escapism and solace in reading during the past few months, however this means we have churned through our TBR (to be read) like never before. As libraries and bookshops closed their doors during lockdown, this raised a terrifying prospect for all book lovers: what happens when I run out of my own books to read? Now lockdown measures are beginning to ease, The Publishing Post looks at how the industry has adapted to life without physical shops and what changes we might now see while shopping for that much-needed new addition.


The Big Ones


Back in March, industry giant Waterstones faced public backlash over their decision to remain open. WHSmith, another popular high-street destination for book shopping, also continued to serve customers in store. At the time, there was no government mandate for bookshops to close, despite criticism over whether bookshops could be classed as ‘essential’ and the extent to which staff and customer safety could be ensured. In light of this, many employees and members of the public took to social media to challenge the shop’s decision to remain open. Employees working in-store alleged that they were not being provided hand sanitiser and were discouraged from wearing personal protective equipment as it may cause customers to worry. Waterstones Swansea, who are already a popular account on Twitter, shared a tweet stating that although they were open they would prefer everyone to shop with Waterstones online, rather than coming into the shop. This came after managing director, James Daunt, stated that bookshops were a ‘necessity’ and should be kept open. However, hours after making this claim, it was announced that all 280 Waterstones stores in the UK would be closing. Since then, Waterstones has reported a 400% increase in online book sales week on week.


The Little Ones


In contrast to the public scrutiny faced by industry chains, many indie bookstores have maintained an active presence in their communities during lockdown. Across the country, independent shops pulled out their bikes to deliver flurries of book orders to local residents. Glasgow’s indie LGBTQIA+ bookshop, Category Is Books, went a step further and started delivering by skateboard! Recognising that not all readers would have the luxury of being able to afford a book in the current economic climate, Category Is set up a ‘pay-it-forward’ shelf, where customers could purchase a book for someone else in the future.The kindness and generosity of fellow book lovers was exhibited all over the UK as volunteers were recruited by indies, including Dogberry and Finch in Okehampton, to deliver orders to the wider community, taking huge numbers of orders via email and phone.


Social media also became an unexpected champion of independent bookselling in lockdown, with independent bookshops taking to Twitter or Instagram to post pictures of their shelves. This allowed customers to ‘browse’ and experience the feeling of going into a bookshop as closely as possible.


How did we manage?


Restrictions on how we could access books since March has encouraged many of us to reevaluate how we engage with the stories that we love. Despite the inability to run promotional events such as book launches, author events, or book awards in real life, you might’ve enjoyed accessing some of these events online (we know we have!) and publishers have seen an increase in online sales directly from their websites. There has also been a huge surge in sales of audio and e-books. Audible, the leading audiobook subscription service, announced in March that they would release over 200 children’s and young adult titles for free, without the need to sign up. These titles included stories from the world of Winnie the Pooh, classics such as Jane Eyre, and the Harry Potter series. All of these books are still available for free (at the time of publication) and it is understood that this will remain the case as long as schools are closed to the majority of pupils.


What can we expect now?


At Waterstones, all booksellers have been provided with face masks and gloves and Perspex screens have been positioned at tills. For customers, hand sanitiser stations have been placed throughout stores. Waterstones are encouraging customers to pay by card wherever possible, and social distancing measures are of course in place as per government guidelines. The greatly anticipated ‘quarantine trolley’ was previously implemented to set aside books that had been browsed but not purchased for 72 hours, but these are no longer in use. Unfortunately, Waterstones cafes are still closed, so you won’t be able to enjoy a coffee while reading your newly-purchased book just yet.


Independent bookshops across the UK are also gradually reopening their doors. Smaller shops may vary, so check individual websites or social media pages for opening times and ways to support your local indie. Many stores are operating on reduced hours, so be sure to check this with your bookshop. You can still buy books online or by phoning your nearest store and placing an order over the phone.


Where To Buy Books During Lockdown

  • Blackwell’s.

  • Directly from the publishers - particularly important for small indie presses!

  • Waterstones/WHSmith’s/Foyles.

  • Your local independent bookshop - find them through the Bookseller’s Association indie bookshop finder or the Save Your Bookstore app on your phone.