Crisis and creativity – Corona-related changes in the book trade

Closed stores and empty city centers hit the book trade hard during the Corona crisis. A study by the Börsenverein provides an overview of developments over the past two years. It shows that the book industry held up well. Bookstores used new and creative approaches to prevent their sales from collapsing. At the same time, more and more independent booksellers implemented their own online stores, thus combating the migration of customers to online delivery companies. As expected, e-books were able to profit from their online format. We took a look at the methods and developments of bookstores.

Crisis and creativity – Corona-related changes in the book trade

During the Corona pandemic, the creative industry in particular struggled with the effects. Cinemas were closed, film shoots could not take place, the music industry suffered from the ban of live performances, and the art industry was confronted with closed studios and exhibition houses. The book industry was also subject to the changes and obstacles of the pandemic.

Surprisingly, according to the German Publishers & Booksellers Association, it was found that overall sales in the book industry remained stable during 2020 and even recorded a minimal increase of +0.1%. In this context, the value of online trade increased, but on-site business remained the strongest sales channel. This is surprising, as the year 2020 had up to two lockdowns, during which stationary bookstores remained closed, in some cases on a mandatory basis, and thus could not serve walk-in customers. In states such as Berlin, bookstores had been spared from closure, but were still faced with empty pedestrian zones and extinct indoor venues.

creativity is the solution

To counteract the loss of sales, the bookstores had to get creative and inspire their customers with new ideas. It became clear that small stores were more successful in keeping their sales stable, in line with the motto: smaller boats are more flexible than heavy tankers. Ludwig Lohmann from the Ocelot bookstore in Berlin-Mitte emphasized in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau: “In contrast to the large chain stores, the small and owner-operated bookstores score points with more creativity in dealing with the new rules. From bicycle couriers to pick-up stations to individual telephone advice.”

“What we were also better at than Amazon before: individual advice instead of algorithms, personality, a pleasant atmosphere in the store, a good book selection.”

What turned out to be particularly important was customer loyalty and the character of the bookstore. Visibly, years of investment in the relationship to shoppers paid off and led to them not switching to delivery giants like Amazon, but instead ordering from their trusted bookstore. Ludwig Lohmann said in this context: “What we could do better than Amazon before: individual advice instead of algorithms, personality, a pleasant atmosphere in the store, a good selection of books”.

New ideas were needed to keep customers interested. The Ocelot bookstore in Berlin Mitte, for example, used its store for exhibitions, so as not to despair despite the closure of the bookstore and to use every opportunity to stay afloat. Rasmus Schöll, owner of the bookstore Aegis in Ulm, converted an old bus into a mobile book kiosk and placed it in the pedestrian zone. Customers could order books online and then pick them up from the bookstore-bus over the side windows. This meant that customers did not have to enter a store and could pick up their favorite works in the open air. These ideas are creative and appealing, but they also lead to significantly higher processing costs, as the effort for each customer increased.

what about e-books?

A study from October 2020 by Simon Kuchner & Partners shows that digital reading is on the rise. According to the results, only one-third of todays’ consumers read exclusively printed literature, and a full 40% switch between digital and print. The reason why many people nowadays prefer digital media is due to the particularly large selection of digital media as well as the simplicity and convenience of purchasing and using them. These points seem to have become increasingly important, especially during the pandemic, and are helping with the widespread implementation of e-books. In contrast to the previous year, sales of ebooks in 2020 increased by 16.2 percent and unit sales increased by 10.8 percent.


After the surprisingly positive results from last year, the first half of 2021 unfortunately does not bode well, according to the Börsenverein. Sales of stationary bookstores turn out to be 22.9% lower than the sales of the first six months in the pre-Corona year 2019. However, this can be offset by the sales of the online trade, which means that the book industry is now only 3.7 percent behind. Half of these internet bookstore sales are thanks to residential bookstores, which gradually opened their own online stores during the year.

Hopes for the coming year are a steady reopening of retail as well as that the loss of sales can be compensated by the individual online platforms. It is also possible that readers will increasingly switch to digital formats. However, as has now become clear, booksellers have the opportunity to counter the digital trend with ideas and creativity.


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