It’s been a strange year for the publishing and bookselling industry, according to Karla Nelson, owner of Time Enough Books in Ilwaco.
“Some of the smaller presses, the university presses, seem to have cut way back substantially,” Nelson said. “I can normally get what I want but not as quickly as I’ve been able to get it in the past.”
Some of the publishing houses supplying small distributors have experienced a lag, partly because distributors are unsure of how much to order for bookstores that may or may not be open depending on restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
As at bookstores across the country, specific items at Time Enough Books and Beach Books in Seaside have been in high demand and low supply since March.
“Jigsaw puzzle sales went through the roof during COVID,” Nelson said of the first few months of restrictions, when people were finding ways to entertain themselves without leaving their homes.
Alexa Butler, manager of Beach Books and a committee chairwoman of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, agreed and said puzzles were the hardest things to get.
“It was insane,” Butler said. “If you had puzzles it was like you had gold.”
While puzzles were starting to become easier to order, books were still in low supply through the holiday shopping season in November and December, as printers were running at a small capacity.
“If someone gets (COVID-19), it quarantines the books as well as the staff so that’s why we pushed really hard to pre-order books in the late fall,” Butler said. “As a business it’s hard to know what’s coming when we make these orders.”
Beach Books orders books from Ingram Book Company, a major wholesale book distributor in the U.S. with a warehouse in Roseburg and a secondary in Tennessee.
Brian Juenemann, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, said the schedule for ordering books for holiday shopping was pushed up for all the member stores on the North Oregon Coast and Long Beach Peninsula in Washington.
“Many printers mothballed or shut down altogether so there is a shortage of available printers for actually making books for the holiday season,” Juenemann said, adding that with a heavy amount of online ordering, carriers have been stretched thin.
“There are a lot of wild cards every day so you just have to say ‘what can you do, it’s 2020,’” Juenemann said.
According to Juenemann, stores usually have a cut-off date of Dec. 20 or Dec. 21 for ordering books to arrive in time for Christmas.
But on Dec. 14, Butler said she couldn’t guarantee a book ordered that day would get to the customer in time.
New ways to connect
Both bookstores were closed for two and a half months at the beginning of the pandemic. Since reopening in June, they’ve been finding new ways to connect with readers.
Beach Books had a window display of a variety of books so customers could come by and point to what they wanted from outside. Other previous customers from out of the area have called or ordered books online instead of coming into the store.
“We continue to stoke the fire, social media is our biggest thing,” Butler said.
Beach Books’ social media posts have reached a wider audience than in the past, expanding beyond the store’s usual customer base to such places as Florida and Puerto Rico.
Jason Campbell, “the TikTok doc,” known for his viral dancing videos at Oregon Health and Sciences University, helped fuel the bookstore’s social media.
“He loves the bookstore and he’s been able to come and make videos,” Butler said. “It’s been awesome to get the outreach.”
Meanwhile, Nelson has been fulfilling a lot of special orders for customers, which she said have been easier to get in. Nelson has been selling books for more than 20 years and said she was on a recent Zoom meeting with other booksellers who have been in the business for about five years.
“I realized I was kind of the old matriarch of the group. They didn’t go through the 2008, 2009 recession,” Nelson said. “What I told them was, ‘just let this year go, you can’t compare it to anything and you won’t be able to compare it to anything. It’s just something we have to roll with until it’s over.’”