“. . . . But the greatest challenge to online book tours has not been the inevitable glitches of an unfamiliar and not entirely reliable technology. The greatest challenge has been to the survival of bookstores themselves.
A retail bookseller’s bread and butter are live events. The chance to meet a favorite author in real life is one of the crucial differences between a neighborhood bookshop and the online colossus that must not be named. When readers come out to hear an author talk, they tend to leave the store with a new book signed just for them. With any luck, they also leave with a stack of other books from the store’s beautifully curated tables and shelves — and often with a souvenir coffee mug or tote bag to boot.
None of that can happen when author tours are canceled or moved online, which explains in part why bookstores have been particularly hard hit this year, despite the fact that book sales are up over all. According to the American Booksellers Association, at least one independent bookstore has closed every single week during the coronavirus pandemic.
To add insult to mortal injury, the survivors are looking at a deeply troubled holiday shopping season. Mail orders, which have surged during the quarantines, now face significant delivery delays as shipping speeds drop with increased online orders across the retail landscape. Many stores are open to foot traffic but are operating under strict municipal or state orders that severely limit the number of customers who can be in the store at one time — not the ideal scenario in a shopping season that can make or break the entire fiscal year.
Books remain the ultimate gift: easy to wrap, available in such a multifarious array that there’s truly something for everyone and, best of all, a desperately needed break from screens in the age of TikTok and Zoom. A book does not beep at you, spy on you, sell you out to marketers, interrupt with breaking news, suck you into a doomscrolling vortex, cease to function in a nor’easter, flood your eyes with melatonin-suppressing blue light or otherwise interrupt your already troubled sleep. That’s why my best beloveds are all getting books for Christmas. Who wouldn’t want such benefits for the people they love best in all the world?
Once upon a time, at the end of a harrowing year, a way to be a storybook hero presented itself to ordinary mortals in the midst of a dangerous shopping season: Buy books.
Call your local bookshop — or check the store’s website — and order books for everyone on your list. Then pick up your order curbside and head home with a feeling of peace and accomplishment, and the knowledge that you’ve helped to make the world a better place without endangering yourself or anyone else. Because the only way for bookstores to survive is for people to find a way to shop there, even as the coronavirus continues to surge.” . . .