An abundance of readers with nowhere to buy books

The Turkish Publishers Association issued the 2019 Book Market report last week. Looking at the figures in this report, we can say our relationship with books last year was superb. However, as of last month in Turkey and the rest of the world, there were no publishers left that were working as usual due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Turkish Publishers Association issued the 2019 Book Market report last week. Looking at the figures in this report, we can say our relationship with books last year was superb. The publishing world has grown 5.3 percent in 2019 compared to the previous year. Cultural publishing has seen 68,500 new books, with a total of 148 million books printed. Only 6.45 percent of them are literature. This literature percentage may seem small to you, but don’t worry — it has always been like this. Moreover, the number of literary books in 2019 has increased by 10.45 percent. Except for religious books, there has been an increase in all other types of books, like children’s books and research books.

Publishing slowed during the 2018 crisis but went back to its former status in 2019. It even had a very good start with this momentum in early 2020. As a matter of fact, according to the new data released by the Publishers Association, in the first three months of 2020, 36 percent more banderoles, or official stamps issued by the government to prevent piracy, were bought compared to the same period in the previous year, showing that the number of newly published books has increased at the same rate. But, as of March, business started getting tough. The standstill of flights across the entire world, the shutdown of workplaces and shopping malls, and the start of curfews all happened in March. By April, in Turkey and the rest of the world, there were no publishers left that were working as usual. There is now an abundance of readers, but nowhere to buy books.

As we enter June, there is a quest to return to normal all across the world. Nobody is exactly sure what to do, but everyone wants to try. What interests us the most is that bookstores will be open. Bookstores on busy streets and in certain malls have already opened their doors, and Turkey’s biggest chain, D&R, will open all its stores on June 1. Of course, many places that sell books like small stationery stores have tried to be as open as they could. They started innovative methods like book delivery services to homes. All of these efforts will continue and increase because most bookstores, especially the smaller ones, are fighting hard to stay afloat.

In the U.K., where the epidemic does not seem to show any signs of slowing down, there is also an effort to normalize. In what is being seen as a significant development, Barnes & Noble, which had been closed for a long time, re-opened 20 of its stores last week. Independent bookstores in the country, of which there are over 800, are slowly opening one by one. Another development that encouraged bookstores to reopen was a survey done by Nielsen, a global measurement and data analytics company. According to the survey, adults in the U.K. have increased their average reading time of 3.5 hours a week to 6 hours a week during the quarantine period. The preferred genres have changed a little, with more readers opting for crime books and thrillers than usual.

But it is hard to say that this increased readership has been reflected in book sales. With the closure of bookstores, sales by big publishers dropped nearly 60 percent and by almost 90 percent for small publishers. Many publishing houses have put staff on leave. In the U.K., the state gives direct cash support to small businesses and is paying 80 percent of salaries. Despite this, there are small publishers who say, “If things don’t get better by the fall, we will be in a serious crisis.” Many of the publishers have reduced the number of books. There is no clear statistic about the number of books canceled, but the journalist at the Guardian decided that the situation is serious based on data obtained from the outlet’s book editors about the drop in the number of books sent for promotion. (That is how it went for us too. At the end of April, when news sites realized that nothing was going on, they all wrote countless stories on “what is happening in the publishing sector.”)

Of course, web sales are increasing. For instance, some interesting data came from the U.K. bookstore Waterstones: online sales for this chain store were increasing 30 percent every day. As of the beginning of May, their total sales have increased 1,500 percent compared to a couple of months ago. However, according to a representative of the company, the total has not even gotten close to their in-store numbers. As a result, this big chain store is planning to open on June 1.   

In Germany, business is getting back to normal faster, and news from the book market is similarly quite optimistic. Bookstores that have reopened there report that their previous sales have come back by almost 80 percent. In the U.S., though, there is data showing that as of March, sales have gone down by one-third. From France, Germany and the U.K. to Turkey and Greece, the biggest problem is the closure of bookstores. This has affected both the bookstores and the publishers as well as the readers. Of course, when the bookstores open, we do not know what kind of a world it will be. How are we going to behave from now on in the bookstores we enter when it comes to browsing, picking up books and flipping through them? This is also not known.

Several activities that sustain the book world, like talks, autograph sessions and fairs, are also not being held. Yes, in these days of quarantine where we’re stuck at home, books are the most valuable comrades. Everywhere in the world, the time people allocate to books has increased, but at the same time, the number of books being purchased has decreased. This is because most of the avenues for people to buy those books were closed. Now, as can be seen across the world, the efforts to reopen these channels have been prioritized. From now on, if the pandemic does ease and business life reactivates, our social lives will not be the same for quite a while. The balance of time spent between work and home will shift, with home taking up a larger share in the future. At home, our need for books, meaning new dreams and new ideas, will further increase. Therefore, we can say that from the summer months on, we will witness a distinct revival in the book world. However, exactly when the shining statistics of 2019 will return is not easy to guess.

October 27, 2020 A new dream for Taksim