It is a time of bold, universal statements of purpose in response to the Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic is forcing many reassessments of fundamentals – of the importance of publishing and the copyright system that supports it; of the importance of bookshops; and of the importance of the creative industries as a whole.
World Book Day saw organisations representing authors, publishers and booksellers issue a joint letter calling for governments all over the world ‘to recognize, support and celebrate the importance of books, learning solutions, and professional and scholarly content by adopting economic stimulus packages to sustain their respective publishing sectors and the value chains that surround them’.
The letter was distributed by the International Publishers Association (IPA) in Geneva, and signed by the IPA, the European and International Booksellers Federation in Brussels, the International Authors Forum in London, the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisation in Brussels, and STM [Scientific, Technical and Medical] ‘the Global Voice of Scholarly Publishing’ which is based in The Hague, Netherlands and Oxford UK. It is the first time that these bodies have come together to issue such a call and underlines the gravity of the threat posed by the coronavirus to the global book business.
The letter was supported by the Association of Canadian Publishers too, which said it was encouraged by the $Can500m investment in arts, culture and sports made by the federal government in response to the crisis.
In the UK, PRH CEO Tom Weldon and Hachette UK CEO David Shelley are among more than 400 leading names from the creative industries who have signed a letter from the Creative Industries Federation to the Chancellor and Culture Secretary warning that, unless the government acts fast, half the UK’s creative businesses could be lost due to the coronavirus pandemic. On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Faber CEO Stephen Page said “art and culture is central to our understanding of what is going on right now” and spoke of the importance of bookshops saying they should be among the first retailers to re-open.
In the US, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild and the American Booksellers Association (ABA) issued a joint statement noting that after a decade of growth and recovery bookstores were now confronting “a moment of monumental crisis at the hands of the Covid-19 pandemic… [with some facing] the very real possibility that they will never open their doors again… We are therefore asking for your help to save these ‘best of places’,” that being the phrase used by Jen Campbell in The Bookshop Book. The statement urges people to visit their community bookstore online or find them at Indiebound.org.
Meanwhile, the Save Indie Bookstores campaign which was established on 2 April with a $500,000 donation from James Patterson, goes from strength to strength. With backing from Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club and the ABA, it has now raised more than $750,000. Author Rick Riordan (of Percy Jackson fame) and his wife Becky have issued a gift matching challenge in which they will match each dollar raised up to $100,000. From the end of April to 15 May the funds will be distributed to eligible independent bookstores.
In a well-received article in Publishers Weekly, Sari Feldman, former president of the American Library Association (ALA), said that librarians should use this time “to begin thinking about how public libraries will function in a society that will certainly be changed for the short term, and may be changed forever”. She urged the ALA to campaign for universal broadband, saying “if nothing else, the Covid-19 crisis has laid bare the need for the Internet to be treated as an essential utility. Online education should also be a new rallying cry for professional librarians…And at some point soon we must take up the question of equal access – all content, all providers, all available to libraries.”
Finally, beginning its year as UNESCO World Book Capital, the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur held a virtual opening ceremony at which the city’s mayor Dato’ Nor Hisham bin Ahmad Dhalan, issued a touching and optimistic statement. “It is in a time like this that we need authors, poets, illustrators, publishers and content producers to embrace the challenge. Wow us in your own superior creative ways. Spread your wings and continue to remind us to always be good and do good things to others. Tell us the truth. Remind us to always be patient. Assure us that there is light at the end of the tunnel, where we will shine as winners – winners who come out stronger than ever before.”
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.