The lockdown made reading popular again. But was it any good for local bookshops?

During the first lockdown, many Dutch people decided to dedicate more time to reading. Some finally swept the dust off a novel left too long on the shelf, and many more bought new books, online and in local bookstores.

While online books sales increased by 33% in comparison to the same period (March-May) of the previous year, offline sales fell by 24%. Big websites made the highest profit from this shift in consumers’ habits. For instance, eBook.nl, the largest e-book online shop in the Netherlands, experienced revenue growth of 35% during the lockdown. 

As e-books and online shops lived their brightest moment, how were local businesses handling the change?

Erwin de Vries smiles browsing through the photos of his bookstore Boekhandel Godert Walter full of packages during the corona-crisis. As the owner of a small independent business in the city centre, during the outbreak of the virus, he left the choice up to his employees whether or not to come to work. 

Boekhandel Godert Walter, all photos by Sofia Turati

The staff accepted to continue with regular hours, and the shop remained open, even if with a restricted clientele. But the lifesaver was the bookshop’s website: “It was exploding. We also offer a delivery service throughout the whole country and we reached 40-50 orders per day.”

Bookstore Riemer

“It’s like they invented reading again!” exclaims the employee Janke Van Esch, swinging from one client to the next in the bookstore Riemer, also located in the city centre.

The online service of the bookstore largely compensated for the losses of the physical shop. “We gained new consumers. They appreciated that we also make gift packages and shipping” she says.

At Reimer, as well as at Godert Walter, even after months, the positive side-effects of the pandemic persist, and now the sales are still slightly better than before the lockdown.

Yet Corona wasn’t a magic bullet for all book business. The Van der Velde bookshop, the largest in the city, situated in Grote Markt and part of a chain spread across the Netherlands, was strangely calm for a couple of months. 

Van der Velde bookshop

Thanks to its vast choice of English books and its very central location, the bookstore is normally frequented by tourists, who were forcibly lacking during the lockdown, so it was in suffering during the pandemic, explains Ingrid Subum, an employee. She adds: “We have a website, but when people buy online, they immediately think of Bol*”.

In the Netherlands, compared to the rest of Europe, where readers become fewer every year,  the book market is generally stable. Nonetheless, book sales experienced a slight decline in 2019. 

Will 2020 bring definitive changes in the book market? It will probably depend on the progression of the virus. 

*a very popular online shopping platform, similar to Amazon.

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