A Brief Examination of the Publishing Industry After 2020

We are all well aware that the pandemic has affected all sectors and everyone’s lives in unprecedented ways. Despite the fact that cuddling up with a good book is a quarantine go-to for many, the publishing industry as a whole has had to scramble to adapt to changes brought about because of the pandemic. Here are some of the major ways that the publishing industry has grappled with these changes, as well as some questions about our uncertain future as we struggle to return to normalcy.

While ebooks have had an understandable surge during the pandemic, the rise in ebook purchasing was boosted in the realm of academia as both parents and students adjusted to learning at home. Publisher’s Weekly found that the use of audiobooks has exploded as well, prompting many tech-savvy users to question the rights to their own digital library. Both Libro.fm and Bookshop.org saw their digital book sales soar overall.

Another contender in the publishing industry last year was something that is relatively new: the book subscription box. Subscription boxes have become more and more prevalent in other sectors, especially last year, so it should come as no surprise that the publishing industry wanted to have a slice of that pie as well. One distinct advantage of these services is that they can simulate the traditional book-browsing experience that you would get at a physical location.

According to Jim Milliot from Publisher’s Weekly, one of the most significant changes to the publishing industry came toward the end of the year when Penguin Random House (PRH) acquired Simon & Schuster for $2.175 billion, making the publishing super-giant more than twice the size of HarperCollins. The PRH acquisition has been a source of anxiety for many, both inside the industry and outside of it with regards to antitrust laws and Amazon’s own vice grip of a monopoly.

Publisher’s Weekly also notes that some independent booksellers who have had trouble staying afloat and visible have resorted to crowdfunding in order to meet the bottom line. This further deepens the divide between the big publishing houses and independent presses. After all, independent bookstores that have not been able to reasonably pivot toward more community outreach and support have had to close their doors. Many independent presses have been surprised and overwhelmed at the amount of community support rallying behind their local bookstore fixtures, which is something that has become increasingly popular over the last year of the pandemic.

One of the questions that remains is whether or not the publishing industry should hope for a return to normalcy or if there even is a normal to go back to. With how tumultuous last year was in terms of projections, it will be hard for people in the industry to feel at ease with making predictions in the months to follow. With the transition to systems that allow for easier means of remote work, will major publishers leave New York? How will publishing continue to address the disparities of race and gender in the industry? As it stands, only time will tell.

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