By Mako Duvall and Gabrielle Thurman
The publishing industry has seen, in just a few short years, a drastic shift in many areas, from where employees work to how consumers are marketed to. Of course, these changes did not come to exist vainly or in a vacuum. Rather, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 forced many companies across the planet and across almost every sector to adapt to the needs and demands of a pandemic and (hopefully) post-pandemic world.
One industry affected strongly by the pandemic was, of course, publishing. Rising material costs forced larger publishing houses to reconsider what kinds of books they wished to prioritize and how many of those books they could reasonably expect to publish profitably. The unfortunate truth of the pandemic was that, as with most crises, larger houses and firms had a much easier time weathering the storm, but not even they came out unscathed.
Some smaller publishers, including literary magazines and journals, struggled to deal with these costs. To adapt, some were reducing their annual publishing, switching to a primarily digital publication format, or shutting down entirely under strain. As more publications moved exclusively online, income sources became more flexible, with some presses moving toward subscription or membership business models.
On a more individual level, employees frequently had to attend staff meetings and other important events over digital platforms like Zoom. Literary conferences and other large-scale gatherings had to either adapt quickly to the new norm of Zoom, postpone, or cancel completely. Publishing’s slow tumble into decentralization became a free fall. With more conferences, book tours, and everyday communications occurring over Zoom, the publishing industry post-vaccine is making its way out of New York City, which is a good thing; the average editor’s pay is $10,000 less than the cost of living. Editors feel burnt out, and overall, the mental health of the public is on a decline. The publishing industry is no exception; the consequences of long-term social isolation brought on by the pandemic aren’t fully known yet, but it is likely to have a prolonged negative impact on those most affected by structural discrimination, such as children, people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, ethnic and racial minorities, and rural populations.
On the consumer’s end, reduced access to physically printed materials due to supply chain disasters, materials shortage, and limited access to retail stores—thanks to limited staffing and (necessary) social distancing—led to frustrations that have ultimately been answered by an even greater emphasis on home delivery and no contact checkout services, a fact that has left Amazon keenly better off than most companies and driven a greater expectation for home delivered products going forward.
However, the current state of the industry isn’t all doom and gloom. Some smaller publishers were able to find and fill new niches in the publishing space, especially online, as the demand for digital media soared to unprecedented heights. As the pandemic has begun to recede somewhat from the public consciousness, publishing houses that were once on the brink are now finding new footing and new life as physical storefronts and writers’ conferences open once again. The trials and tribulations of the past few years certainly seem unique, but the demand for the written word still exists, and as long as there is a demand, the publishing industry will be here to fill it.
Mako Duvall is an undergraduate at the University of Central Arkansas and a student intern for the Arkana Issue 13.
Gabrielle Thurman is a new writer, book lover, queer woman, professional editor, and native Arkansan. She majors in creative writing and plans to attend law school in the fall of 2023.