Coronavirus takes a toll on print book sales while ebook popularity skyrockets

As stay-at-home orders continue to extend, many have turned to books in order to beat boredom and escape reality. In particular, ebooks sales have surged due to their convenience and accessibility during quarantine. 


“10.1 million digital books were borrowed from public libraries worldwide via Libby last week, according to new statistics from Overdrive, the company behind Libby, which represents a nearly 30% increase from the same week last year,” the Editor-in-Chief of Good e-Reader, Michael Kozlowski said. 


Ebooks have gained popularity because they can be obtained without having to leave your home and people are able to read multiple books on one device. Additionally, students with a school iPad can use district login information to access a plethora of resources, including digital libraries such as Sora.


“I definitely think more people are checking out ebooks at this time because it’s easier to access or some people have simply finished reading all the physical books they may have had at home. I also think people are seeing more and more the range of books they can read through our school libraries and through the public libraries,” librarian Kim Miklusak said. 


While ebook sales are flourishing, independent bookstores are suffering due to book printings being on hold, publication delays, the cancellation of large book events and author tours. The bookstores that have not been closed already are trying to stay afloat by shifting to telephone or online orders as well as curbside pick-up. 


“I am concerned for small bookstores. This has been incredibly hard on them. I am guilty of ordering from Amazon but I think this is a good reminder for me to be more mindful about where I buy my books from. Maybe I’ll go put in an order at Anderson’s,” English teacher Claire MacDonald said. 


The controversial question always arises when people compare traditional paper b0oks to ebooks. Could this virus be exactly what ebooks need in order to close the gap? We may never know but one thing’s for sure, COVID-19 will forever change book publishing and how people buy their books. 


“I don’t think they [ebooks] will ever truly replace physical books because people definitely have their preferences, and not everyone has access to the resources they need to get eBooks and audio books, and some people do not have access to public library cards due to where they live and policies. But I do think more people have tried to use ebooks now than they may have before, so maybe more people will try both moving forward,” Mikluak said. 


Independent bookstores will need help if they’re going to reopen after quarantine orders are loosened. Sales made from delivering books though online orders or shipping them by one of the national book distribution companies, will never fully compensate for the lost sales. Furthermore, thousands of booksellers have been laid off, forcing them to enroll for unemployment subsidies. 


“How bad is it for bookstores, really? Just ask the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, a modest nonprofit that offers help to booksellers in need. They have raised $700,000 since the start of the crisis and anticipate a minimum of one thousand booksellers needing at least $1,000 each in the near term,” publisher from The Los Angeles Times Ed Nawotka said.  


It is important that we do our best to help support small bookstores in every way we can, whether it be something as small as putting in an online order or utilizing curbside pick up services that your local library offers. Right now is the perfect time to read in general, whether it be ebooks or paper books because it can make you feel more connected and less alone during this time of uncertainty. 


“I think for the students who have turned to reading during this time, they will be life-long readers who value the escape and relaxation reading can provide. I need stories now more than ever. In this isolation, I need to find connection to people all over the world from all walks of life. We have to keep reading during a time like this to stay connected,” MacDonald said.