The Book Market Is Booming: This Is How Instagram, High-Tech, and Libraries Can Expand It
People are reading more books during the pandemic than before. According to NPD BookScan, print sales were up almost 8 percent during 2020, growing across all readership segments, from juvenile to adult non-fiction. E-books and audiobooks, which make up a smaller portion of the market, are up as well. From my local library’s lovely librarians who are thrilled to share the rising numbers of local readers to the most powerful executive in American publishing, declaring 2020 the best year for publishing in a very long time, the market is booming. This is excellent news! As every book enthusiast like me knows, reading books has many advantages, especially during a stressful pandemic.
An interesting trend emerged in how we shop for books. When booksellers struggled to open their stores safely, customers mainly bought books by celebrities and best-selling authors. These big names have been driving a greater share of sales than usual to Amazon and big retailers like Target and Walmart, who sold groceries and essentials and were allowed to stay open during the pandemic. At the same time, independent bookstores had a challenging year. According to the American Booksellers Association, more than one independent bookstore has closed each week since the pandemic began.
What happens in a market that shifts towards online shopping with the big retailers? What happens when the audience is missing the experience of going through bookstores and discovering new authors and independent publishers? The best-sellers and big names dominate sales; the customer’s stroll through physical bookstores, glancing over new books and exploring their promise, is replaced by websites’ algorithms offering a limited number of popular best sellers.
When the book market becomes even more controlled by the big names in the industry, emerging authors might find it extremely difficult to reach new audiences who can’t visit bookstores and discover their writing. The market becomes even more cohesive, posing enormous challenges to writers and small publishers trying to find their readership.
The book market doesn’t face only commercial challenges. The cultural, educational, social, political, and artistic importance of encouraging authors to spread knowledge is immeasurable. Stagnation and putting more barriers between authors and audiences will eventually silence the critical, innovative voices outside the mainstream and are necessary to sustain a healthy civil society.
Energizing the reading market with new voices
Who can energize the booming reading market and help readers discover more voices, encourage emerging authors, and support small publishers? This is where public libraries, journalists, influencers, and even high-tech start-ups should step in and allow more new and promising authors to take the stage while promoting reading in society at large.
Since Benjamin Franklin founded the first library in the US, libraries’ goals have been to benefit people who otherwise would not have access to books. Offering a wide variety of books, newspapers, movies, museum tickets, book clubs, after school and social activities, and even cake pans, public libraries are strongly embedded in their communities. They are the lively gathering place to discover a new book to read. When libraries are open to the public again, their role as a platform for discovering new authors is even more critical. Libraries’ display shelves and staff recommendations, echoing small boutique bookstores, are vital to offering audiences what they have missed during the pandemic. They can encourage new and less well-known voices and present new topics to read about. Developing their role as agents of social change, libraries should focus on promoting new authors and introducing them to their communities.
Journalists are key gatekeepers with the professional reputation to introduce new voices to larger audiences. In this case, interviewing or recommending new books to read serves all sides: authors and publishers who receive recognition and sales increases, the audience who will learn about more exciting books and will read more, and the journalists themselves, who will be regarded as even more professional and knowledgeable. Covering and discovering new authors is a professional practice that connects with journalists’ social responsibility and awareness. One of my favorite examples is NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast; in addition to discussing books, hosts share personal recommendations for books, music, and other cultural events.
A strong presence on social media is an essential aspect of marketing. Influencers, promoting products through their personal views, are an integral part of this marketing sphere. In this case, influencers on #Bookstagram critique books and recommend them to readers on Instagram. They are perfectly positioned to introduce new voices and support small publishers. In addition to the commercial and marketing aspect, the social media buzz Instagram injects into the book market can revive and support more emerging voices when directed towards diversified influencers and book-reading enthusiasts.
Companies that develop digital reading experiences for children and adults should monitor this trend. Even when focusing on the medium, the technology that offers the reading experience, content still matters. The pandemic and reading trends are an excellent opportunity for companies to connect with reading communities and cater to their unique needs. Doing so not only strengthens their corporate social responsibility but also helps high-tech companies develop their products to be socially diversified and offer platforms for expanding readers’ scope and interests. In a win-win situation, companies will sell both reading platforms and encourage social awareness while adding an attractive angle to their sales pitch.
Encouraging more diversity in the book market is not merely an economic question of an open market vs. a regulated one. Exposing audiences to new authors, topics, and knowledge is a win-win for all actors in the field: authors, publishers, and the audience. Hopefully, the boost will reach independent bookstores as well. Enriching the market with more socially and culturally diverse books is a social goal that can bring together many professional non-profit and for-profit actors. This could be the way civil society overcomes the pandemic’s challenge: bookstores closing and readers missing the experience of discovering books independently.