The COVID-19 pandemic and related closures have made bookshops one of the worst affected businesses in Latin America. According to the Regional Centre for Promotion of Books in Latin America and the Caribbean (“CERLALC”), bookshops have experienced both a decrease in sales aggravated by a drop in the publication of new novels.
A study commissioned by CERLALC reported that 88% of the bookshops consulted in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico registered a decrease in sales of more than 25% in 2020 compared to 2019. This adds misery to a business which has been experiencing a progressive decline due to new reading consumption habits.
Most governments in Latin American like Argentina and Chile have offered little specific economic support to bookshops with the former limiting its assistance to unemployment benefits. In Argentina, bookshop owners hope that, one year into the pandemic, the government will start studying financial assistance plans for the sector, including editorial houses.
Although local independent bookstores have loyal fan bases, sector initiatives should also include a transformation of libraries into digital information centres, partnerships with other libraries to offer common logistics solutions and engage with potential new clients.
A Colombian executive at a large online bookshop in Latin America explained the attraction of digital, “All formats benefit the book industry, the important thing is to get people reading, on any platform. Physical books benefit the reader more than the producer as printing is expensive but a more rewarding format.”
“All formats benefit the book industry, the important thing is to get people reading, on any platform.”
Executive, online bookshop, Colombia
Any bookshop that was prepared to shift to online ordering and delivery has been richly rewarded during the pandemic, as the owner of one online bookshop in Mexico explained, “We saw sales growth of 300 per cent last year. It all started with the quarantine and we thought that it would be temporary growth but it just hasn’t stopped. We also work with many smaller bookshops, we don’t want to compete with physical stores, we want to be a new route to market for them.”
“We saw sales growth of 300 per cent last year. It all started with the quarantine and we thought that it would be temporary growth but it just hasn’t stopped.”
Owner, online bookshop, Mexico
Public libraries have also been closed by virus restrictions and have been searching for ways to serve their communities and stay relevant. The Colombian Chamber of Commerce launched the “Adopt a Library” initiative by which donors can choose which library to fund throughout the country.
Reassuringly, despite the challenges, people have not stopped reading!