A Canadian publisher is drawing attention to the hundreds of independent booksellers embracing online sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Don Gorman, the Victoria-based publisher of Rocky Mountain Books, created a Google Map of independent booksellers operating online and offering delivery or curbside pickup.
The map now includes more than 250 bookstores and has been viewed more than 35,000 times.
Gorman, a former bookseller, said he created the map after noticing how many bookstores were moving online and delivering goods to customers’ homes for the first time.
“A lot of independent booksellers and publishers have realized that they need to have a stronger online presence,” he said.
Thank-you notes and requests to be added to the list have flooded the publisher’s inbox over the past few weeks.
Gorman said the response illustrates a need for a national association of bookstore owners in Canada.
The Canadian Booksellers Association (CBA) operated for decades before joining the Retail Council of Canada in 2012.
“Since then, there’s really been no cohesive association for independent booksellers across the country to come together and support each other,” Gorman said.
‘Business has changed dramatically’
Brick-and-mortar stores have been trying to compete with bigger players like Indigo and Amazon.
“The business has changed dramatically,” said Steve Budnarchuk, co-owner of Audreys Books in downtown Edmonton.
Audreys now accepts orders online, by email and over the phone. The store also offers free delivery to local customers who spend more than $50.
Staff are still making book suggestions over the phone, Budnarchuk said, but the shift online means many customers lose the “serendipity of discovery” they sought in the physical store.
“It’s an experience that’s difficult to duplicate any other way,” he said.
Barry Bailey, who runs Bailey Books in St. Albert and has been selling titles online for more than 15 years, said he is using social media more often to engage customers who can no longer visit the store.
Using YouTube and Facebook Live, the bookseller has livestreamed himself talking about books and even giving himself a haircut.
Gorman said he expects the pandemic will fundamentally change the way small bookstores operate, even after it ends.
“This has really proven that the economy is moving online and we have to have connections through social media, and we have to have online presence if we actually want to survive these sorts of things,” he said.