European and International Booksellers Spotlight Bookstores Saturday

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Taking advantage of the weekend’s UN-led emphasis on small business, many in publishing are pointing to the important role these shops play in the world industry.

A bookstore in Turkey’s province of Hatay. Image – iStockphoto: Kerem Berk

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘An Integral Part of Their Local Communities’
With Saturday (June 27) being the United Nations’ Micro-, Small, and Medium-Sized Enterprises Day, the European and International Booksellers Federation today (June 25) is leading the way in recognizing bookstores and bookshops, many of them so hard hit by various stages of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

From its offices in Belgium, the federation has issued a statement that reads, in part, “The bookselling community is quite large and diverse, but predominantly it consists of small- and medium-sized businesses.

“These include brick and mortar bookshops, online bookshops, independent bookshops, and chains. Through providing access to literature and culture, contributing to financial sustainability in their local areas, and helping to improve reading outcomes for all, booksellers are an integral part of their local communities.”

The still relatively recent competition of digital bookselling in the world publishing business, of course, is one reason that World Multinational Corporation Day doesn’t seem to be in the offing.

Bookstores, the federation writes, “are competing for their customers’ attention with large online retailers, which have resources to completely reshape the market, to the detriment of local communities.”

“Small- and medium-sized enterprises play a vital role,” the statement from Brussels reads, “in creating decent job opportunities and improving livelihoods in communities in which they’re embedded. They provide a critical contribution to sustainable development, making up for 70 percent of total employment and providing 50 percent of GDP,” those figures coming from the UN proclamation.

“It’s important to recognize the significant contribution” these small companies make in the global economy, the statement reads, “especially as they are being hit the hardest by the economic fallout of the pandemic.”

Struggles in ‘The Great Lockdown’

Image: United Nations, ‘The Power of Small

The UN refers to “the Great Lockdown” in pointing out that small- and medium-sized businesses “employ a larger share of the vulnerable sectors of the workforce, such as women, youth, and people from poorer households, populations with high vulnerability” amid the contagion.

These companies, the UN writes, “can sometimes be the only source of employment in rural areas,” and as we know, independent bookstores may frequently be the only retailers of literature outside of the major urban hubs preferred by chain stores.

In case you’re interested in more on the topic of small business and its place in the world in general, the International Trade Center held a digital program as part of the UN’s activities. “The Great Lockdown and Its Impact on Small Business” can be seen in its recording from Wednesday (June 24) which we’ll embed for you here.(The tape has a long lead on it of about five minutes before the speaker, some 40 of them, begin.)

Recent Comments on Bookstores

With the help of James Taylor at the Geneva-based International Publishers Association, we’re able to capture a few recent comments on bookselling and the experiences of bookshops during the pathogen’s international assault.

Maria A. Pallante

In recent comments to the IPA for its “In Conversation” series, for example, Maria A. Pallante, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, says, “Authors have challenges during this pandemic, publishers have them as well, bookstores are struggling to survive.

“We at AAP teamed up with the American Booksellers Association and the Author’s Guild on World Book Day to promote independent bookstores because the concern there is that they won’t be able to open again after such a serious shutdown. They’re doing their best to deliver books to people through all sorts of local channels—with couriers, cars or bicycles.”

José Ignacio Echeverria

José Ignacio Echeverria, president of Grupo Iberoamericano de Editores, says, “One thing that happened here in Mexico and which might be an idea, is that CANIEM,” the publishing chamber based in Mexico City, “had lots of meetings with the bookstore association.

“They publish every week a list of about 60 bookstores that deliver books to you after you buy online.

“This is helping local bookstores and smaller publishers reach the public.”

Rudy Vanschoonbeek

And the Federation of European Publishers‘ president, Rudy Vanschoonbeek, tells IPA president Hugo Setzer, “We prepared a compilation of European measures and national measures that we recommended to be urgently adopted by our governments or European institutions. We have, in preparation of a video-conference between the European culture ministers of this week, developed two specific measures.

“The first is a book voucher for citizens to go and visit local bookshops and inject liquidity into the entire chain, supporting authors, publishers, and booksellers. This voucher can be introduced in one country in a different way than in another country, but the principle is to have liquidity.

“The second proposal is a broader one and would consist—and we know that several countries are adopting it—of massive public purchases of books, again via local bookshops, for libraries and educational establishments.

“Both these measures would help all stakeholders and society in general, to have access to books and to enhance that access and reading itself.

“And in general, publishers have also helped bookshops with extra margin to compensate for online sales and bringing books to the public” under tough conditions.

Barnes & Noble Corporate Office Layoffs

While the emphasis of Saturday’s recognitions, of course, are on independent bookstores, it’s worth noting that even major chains of physical stores are struggling.

On Thursday (June 25), Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at the Wall Street Journal reported that the States-based Barnes & Noble, under James Daunt’s still relatively new leadership, has laid off or furloughed more corporate-headquarters employees, finding its circumstances “much changed” by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the chain’s more than 600 stores.

“We now have almost all of our bookstores reopened and must align our head office requirements to our store priorities,” the company’s statement reads.

And in case you missed it, our story this week from Paris on international language bookstores banding together in a union—in the aftermath of the pandemic’s stranding them without their usual niche clientele—is here from Olivia Snaije.

At this writing, the 11:33 a.m. ET update (1533 GMT) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center puts the global caseload of COVID-19 infections at 9,654,269 with 490,632 deaths.

Sharing the Piraeus Bank building in Fira on Santorini, a small bookshop on Dekigala Road. Image – iStockphoto: Roger Utting

More from Publishing Perspectives on bookstores is here, and more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.