COVID-19 News: IBPA Members Respond to "Pandemic Publishing" Survey
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
(Manhattan Beach, California - April 21, 2020) -- On April 14, 2020, IBPA Independent magazine house reporter Deb Vanasse asked IBPA members to respond to a short survey about how the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting their book publishing businesses. The survey remained open until April 20, 2020. Eighty-seven (87) individual respones were received.
A cover story exploring lessons learned from the range of responses is planned for the July/August 2020 issue of IBPA Independent magazine. In the meantime, some of the verbatim responses are copied below.
Responses from IBPA members with 10-50 titles
Question: Which aspects of your business have been most affected by the pandemic? Which aspects have been least affected?
- Sales have plummeted. Authors are still expecting the printer to meet their release dates.
- The day-to-day aspects of my business haven't changed all that much, since I worked from a home office each day anyway. The biggest aspect that has changed is that the bulk of my business comes from sales at conventions that are direct to consumers, but the conventions have been steadily getting canceled due to COVID-19.
- The in-person contact to build trust with my local authors; the inability to bring on a new assistant publisher part-time to manage the 500% increase in business I experienced after opening a brick and mortar studio in September. I'm overwhelmed with details that exist only in my head. Current projects are paying on time and in full.
- It's taking longer to get work done because our team is affected by the changes in school schedules and other routines. We are a remote team, so it's much harder to get everything done when suddenly everyone is at home.
I have not onboarded any new authors since the stay-at-home order took affect here in Florida, but I have successfully launched a book writing course online and am creating some new offerings and opportunities for future clients.
- We have some clients that have had to hit "pause" on their publishing projects with us as they, in turn, deal with the economic and people-side fallouts in their own businesses. That has hit us on the revenue side. But we also have other clients going full steam ahead, and we are busy on the marketing and promotion side with books we have published in the last year. We're still getting some traction on our social media side and are still entertaining requests for Discovery Calls - - on most fronts it seems as though we are "business as usual." We are delaying the launch of several books - - in some cases just by a few weeks, and in other cases by a few months.
- The self-publishing pipeline is overloaded right now, so everything is slower and less predictable. Also, many ancillary services like SEO, link tracking, PPC advertising, and other marketing services are struggling, so I'm waiting to see if the prices go down before committing any marketing money. Audible Audiobook sales seem to be down slightly, which is totally unexpected.
- Our sales have tripled, but our productivity on developing new titles is terrible. I wonder if our next books will be profitable.
- The aspects of my business that have been most affected are determining launch dates. Deciding whether to push them out a few months, wait until next year or go ahead, possibly launching ebooks and audiobooks before print editions. The aspects of my business that are least affected are communicating with my authors. Zoom has actually enhanced staying in touch.
- Sales and cash flow have been most affected.
- Sales, marketing plans.
- We have postponed our spring launches scheduled for March and April but plan to proceed with May. We have invested in a good deal of advertising in partnership with our May author, so we've decided to follow through. We are using the extended launch time to work on getting additional reviews for the authors. Future contracts, however, have been canceled by the authors who are uncertain of the future and their finances since we are a hybrid publisher. We released all without any penalty and hope to work with them when things are more stable. We're sending out fun marketing info they can learn in the meantime.
- With bookstores, libraries and universities closed, sales are most affected.
- Customer demand has been most affected. We print educational books and now that schools are cancelled there's not much demand for our books. It's particularly difficult for small educational publishers because some larger companies have been pouring resources into online platforms that are normally used in schools but can easily be adapted for school from home. There have been a lot of tech start-ups trying to get into education through various online tutoring programs (think VIP Kids) or online education. And of course those companies are giving access away, reaching even larger customer bases now. We deliberately positioned ourselves as producing materials that work best face-to-face as an antidote to online, virtual interaction. We have lots of drama titles, for example.
- Most affected: our use of outsourced talent. I had to make a decision to ensure that my inhouse team remained employed while our cash flow is up in the air, so we had to stop using outside talent. Least affected: our production of physical books, because I had gone with a POD business model even for our frontlist titles, and Ingram is an essential employer.
- Our distribution to booksellers has effectively ceased. This has been a significant blow to our income stream. Our primary objective to get good stories that defend nature and empower communities into the hands of readers across the world has not been daunted.
- We use third parties for formatting and cover design. Some of our third parties have had a bit of a lag in responses. Thankfully we were well ahead of schedule so it didn't affect us much. Just frustrating.
- Book sales have been least affected by the pandemic. I am the author and publisher of about a dozen books, and they are all backlist reference books. I sell through Amazon and Lightning Source, and sales are down only slightly so far. I am most affected by not being able to attend book fairs and conferences, a couple of which were scheduled and obviously canceled. Since I recently relocated to the other side of the country, I have not been able to establish myself as a presence here because of the pendemic.
- Our submission list is way down, which is both good and bad. It has allowed us more time to work with our current authors, however, will prove to cause a lag in the coming 12 months when we have fewer titles to publish. As a company, however, we have had more time to work on communication, as those who normally have other day jobs are more available for virtual meetings/updates. Overall, I believe that both challenges and blessings will come from this. As with everything else in our lives at this moment, a New Reality is being defined before our very eyes and we welcome lessons we need to learn, even if they do cause some growing pains in the meanwhile.
- Most affected: sales. Least affected: editing, design, and production.
- Events schedule destroyed.
- As a hybrid publisher, we're finding far fewer people are looking to start a publishing project. And those projects that were midstream, it's harder to get authors to respond when we reach out to them.
- My productivity is lower but I'm still making progress with writing the next book. Sales is the least impacted area, since they were few anyway.
Responses from IBPA members with fewer than 10 titles
Question: Which aspects of your business have been most affected by the pandemic? Which aspects have been least affected?
- Sales are significantly down.
- The pandemic has changed our release schedule -- two major upcoming titles had release dates that corresponded with major events in the US and Mexico. We're working to have digital release events, but it's not likely these will generate the same revenue.
- I am busier now due to authors having more free time to complete projects.
- Community engagement. People still want to talk about books and writing. Social media has been a wonderful way to connect with our readers.
- My book tour planned for 2020 was cancelled. This killed my marketing plans for 2020. Nothing has been least affected because the world has fundamentally been changed.
- Setting up book tours and videos for authors is most affected; dealing with designers and publicists is least affected.
- In-person book launches were cancelled. Book design business has picked up.
- Ability to converse with authors and partner in person.
- I had a new release on February 25, right before the lockdowns started kicking in. I've been promoting a lot and have received positive reviews and comments, but very few sales, even at 99 cents. The 99 cent deal was supposed to be only for a few weeks, but I've let it continue during the quarantine, thinking more people will be seeking books to read at a low price. But sales have been nonexistent. My sales are typically weak because my marketing skills are weak, but this one got a big push and lots of positive buzz with no appreciable result. I don't know if it's the lockdown or just me.
- I've had less time to write and create, but more time to organize my office and art studio.
- Most affected: direct paperback sales. Direct promotion to local libraries / bookstores. Least affected: internet sales (eBook and POD paperback). Web-based promotions. Creative work at home.
- Timeline for publishing; it is delaying a new book until probably November (not July), which may be a good thing.
- Most affected: marketing/distribution. Our company was somewhat on hiatus for the last few years, with one book out. I joined about a year and a half ago, and since then, we've been in the process of getting things going again. We're just about to launch 2 books, and suddenly our marketing strategy needs to adjust for the current situation. We can't host launch parties or other in-person events for our authors -- we have to find ways to promote them solely online. Least affected: project process (including editorial/design/production). Our parent company is already structured to accommodate regular work-from-home days and distributed/remote teams. Our transition to working from home full time has been fairly smooth.
- Most affected is the postponing of book festivals, closing of book stores.
- Print books have been most affected. Amazon is not ordering.
- Cancelled speaking engagements and school presentations around the country.
- Marketing events have been canceled, and sales are way down because people don't have financial security. I'm doing my best to increase my online marketing strategy and work on future projects.
Marketing events have been canceled, and sales are way down because people don't have financial security. I'm doing my best to increase my online marketing strategy and work on future projects.
- In-person sales opportunities no longer exist. I've had to cancel book signings, and I can't travel to talk to independent booksellers as my books release. I've still been able to advertise online, but I don't feel that's been as effective as before.
- The authors cannot do their personal appearances as planned, which affects publicity and sales.
- In-person events where we sell our books have been the most affected. We had book festivals and school visits cancelled. As a small publisher, these events are important for our sales and building our author platforms.
- Closure of book shops and libraries. Online access still an opportunity.
- Book sales
- Retail/bookstore sales obviously have been totally wiped out, so we are relying more than ever on social media directing readers to direct sales through our website. We have been forced to become much more inventive and creative with respect to promoting through social media, which isn't a bad thing.
- Book launches and promotion have been most affected. Our daily operations haven't been affected as much.
- Physical book sales, being that my book is $25.99 retail, have gone down. That's the price of including full color photographs in the book. I stand by the decision because if you're going to write a memoir that tells your life stories through the stories behind your tattoos, well, you should show the reader the tattoo. However, it can hurt sales to have to price so high. I lowered the price of my eBook down to $2.99 in hopes that it would help boost my digital sales and help folks with some entertaining reading during the COVID-19 quarantine. I'm glad that I did so, because it seems to be doing both!
- Unable to do in-person launches or presentations. As our books are linked with our music, we cannot show or perform the uniqueness of our work.
- Fortunately, we have not been affected negatively or positively. Everything is pretty much the same. A couple of things that were put on hold were: an author's book launch of his first book (although we are going to do it virtually, it is still not the same with timing and being all together) and we were not able to hold a spring time get-together that we wanted to put on this year.
- My grass roots campaign for my book tour has been hindered. My social media networking.
- We are closed, as are all of our websites, and we stopped all of our advertising, so we have no sales direct from our website. We chose to do this before stay-at-home orders and lockdown orders because we saw early on in local stores that no one would be buying books anytime soon and we wanted to preserve resources to be able to survive what we thought was likely to be a long period of hunkering down. So long as our distributor is able to meet orders our books remain available at major online booksellers and other retailers. We are still working on manuscripts we have accepted already. Because we closed, our website is unavailable for authors to see our manuscript guidelines; so we doubt we will receive new manuscripts. But we are considering reopening the main publishing website, and perhaps some of our B2C websites.
- Releases have been most affected. We've delayed all of them. Print sales have also gone down over 80% and eBook sales have gone up 50%. Marketing has been affected, as we had to pull the plug on our new release marketing, or modify it significantly. We've also had events cancelled and decided not to attend some in the fall for various reasons.
- Most affected: Physical book sales and marketing. Least: email and audio sales.
- Our authors being able to do events has been hindered. Plus, we will lose many comic con appearances this summer. Audio book sales have increased, though.
- People are not hosting face-to-face murder mystery parties at the moment, so I've had to switch to writing virtual games to be played on video chats.
- Having UK wholesalers and distributor closing is the worst. Editing, design, etc. goes on OK.
- Book releases scheduled during this time most affected. Ebook sales least affected.
About the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA)
Founded in 1983 to support independent publishers nationwide, the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) leads and serves the independent publishing community through advocacy, education, and tools for success. With over 3,200 members, IBPA is the largest publishing association in the U.S. Its vision is a world where every independent publisher has the access, knowledge, and tools needed to professionally engage in all aspects of an inclusive publishing industry. For more information, visit ibpa-online.org.