The pandemic has challenged the publishing industry in many significant ways, yet the book business has also performed remarkably in this difficult period.
Such was the familiar “best of times, worst of times” trope that framed keynote remarks from Michael Pietsch, Hachette Book Group CEO, at last Friday’s annual meeting of the Book Industry Study Group, the first such gathering in three years.
“We learned we were more adaptable than we knew,” Pietsch told his Manhattan audience, notes Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly senior writer. According to BISG, 120 attended the Harvard Club program, along with two dozen more online.
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A self-described “book nerd,” Pietsch cited several positive industry trends: higher-than-expected book sales over the course of the pandemic and evidence of an increase in interest in reading; higher backlist sales fueled in part by more online sales; and publishing’s commitment to produce more works by people of color.
Nevertheless, the crises keep coming, Pietsch admitted. Labor, distribution, and shipping costs are rising at rates not seen in many years, while paper shortages and other manufacturing issues can lead to delays in publication.
And while publishers did successfully transition to remote work, Pietsch said the industry is facing the challenge of moving to a hybrid model.
“HBG’s New York employees returned to the office this week under a twice-a-week formula. Not everyone is happy about that, and not just in publishing,” Albanese tells me.
“If you can do your job remotely, many are asking, why spend time and money and incur the ecological impact of commuting five days a week?” Albanese says.