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heads the online editorial team of the Kultur Management Network. She studied history and archeology in Jena and Rome as well as social media marketing in Berlin. She works freelance in science communication and museum marketing with a focus on online.
While most cultural sectors depend on the presence of visitors, this only applies to a limited extent to the literature business. Nevertheless, he is particularly suffering from the corona crisis - also because he paid too little attention to the area of ebooks in the past.
It's Easter 2020, I'm sitting in the sun with my ebook reader on the balcony at 25 degrees. Since the beginning of the corona crisis, I have borrowed a number of books from Onleihe, the e-book service of the local libraries. How lucky that my library card is always renewed in January! Because until now it was not possible to do this online, at least with my city library. And because I have four days to spare over Easter and I shouldn't and don't want to fight my boredom with work, I read two more books.
A lot of people are like me at the moment, because even few readers are now increasingly turning to books so that the ceiling does not fall on their heads due to a lack of leisure options. In contrast to museums, theaters and concerts, books have always been a cultural asset that you didn't have to leave the house to enjoy. For the literary business, the current high demand could almost be described as a gift. So it is hardly surprising that the book market's trading volume is currently almost the same as that of the Christmas business, as Susanne Bez from the intermediate book retailer Umbreit reports to the Digital Publishing Report.
But this only applies to those who can buy or borrow books digitally. And there is still some catching up to do here in many places. This is a big problem because, unlike most other cultural sectors, the book market is largely self-financing. Therefore, the current situation threatens numerous livelihoods, even in the long term. If you look at the figures at Statista or the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, this affects almost 50,000 people in publishing houses and bookstores. In addition to the cancellation of the Leipzig Book Fair and Lit.Cologne and the closure of bookstores, the often low digital commitment and neglect of ebook sales are also responsible for this.
Social media and digital offers for book sales
The main sales market for publishers is the bookstores; Direct marketing of books plays only a minor role financially. Nevertheless, most publishers operate a comparatively extensive, but also one-sided online communication with end customers, especially on Facebook and Instagram. In addition to the book covers, author portraits and quotes that dominate there, there have been livestream readings and book reviews in particular in recent weeks. "Overall, of course, much more is posted, but unfortunately it is also noticeable that there is a lack of resources or courage. Social media channels don't work like traditional marketing, but unfortunately they are often used in exactly the same way. Community management or development is not implemented systematically and sustainably", explains Trude Schneider, social media advisor for publishers and operator of the book website Literaturpower.
There are of course some positive exceptions, such as Arena-Verlag. He currently offers "Children, adolescents and adults via the social media channels and the arena website offers everything about books, publishing life and the authors and illustrators", explains Susanne Baumann, Head of Press and Public Relations at the publishing house.Creative suggestions for what to do and a space for exchange ready, as the publisher invites you to share creative ideas about books with others"In the online activities of the Random House publishing group, the authors not only talk about their books, but also"with journalists and politicians or give advice and assistance in dealing with the current challenges", reports press spokeswoman Rebecca Klöber. And Random House also has learning material and employment ideas for children.
In addition, the only noticeable change in the online communication of many publishers is the solidarity with the bookstores. As well as for freelance artists, there are now numerous calls for solidarity with the booksellers who support and share the publishers.
The booksellers themselves show a lot of initiative. They communicate the options for placing orders and offer consultation hours on book purchases, for example via WhatsApp, email or telephone. They also deliver books to customers themselves, set up online shops at short notice and are thus sometimes faster than Amazon (the group had initially postponed the delivery of books to other, more system-relevant products). The Hamburg bookstore Lüders puts together "survival kits", for example, based on the price expectations and thematic preferences of customers. The feedback on it is so excellent that the employees * were fully occupied in the week before Easter due to the great demand.
In terms of social media, according to the observation of Wibke Ladwig - social web ranger and coach for digital life and work, among other things for bookstores and libraries - especially those responded quickly, "who have been using digital technology for a long time in a creative way. And for whom this commitment now pays off in the truest sense of the word. What counts is constancy and an increased understanding of the digital. "They report on their channels from empty sales rooms about favorite books, handicraft tips or work in the book trade. There are also online readings here, such as the Hugendubel Group's Instagram" Lockdown Reading ". For Wibke Ladwig, the format impresses simply because of the clever Election of the team of moderators with bookseller and bookstagram Florian Valerius and bestselling author and blogger Mareike Fallwickl.there is still room for improvement in terms of reading or discussion formats for books on the InternetBookseller Olaf Bachmann from Schwerte an der Ruhr, for example, shows how entertaining it can be in a Facebook video. In it, he torments himself disoriented on his bike through the villages around his bookstore looking for a delivery address. The Facebook audience thanks him with numerous likes. "Taken in isolation, none of this may be spectacular. Because what is done there is simply a book trade in the best sense of the word"explains Wibke Ladwig.
These numerous and creative efforts cannot make up for the revenue deficit despite the high demand. However, they ensure greater and long-term customer loyalty, especially to the small, owner-managed bookstores. "Because the book trade is contact sport, or, perhaps more appropriately, as one bookseller once put it, always serving people - now at a distance", says Wibke Ladwig. Susanne Baumann explains that the Arena-Verlag has noticed a change in the community and the customer relationship:"What is particularly nice is the participation of the fans in our campaigns."And Rebecca Klöber also makes it clear how important and positive the feedback is, because"Across all of our channels, we observe in the community on the one hand the desire for distraction and feel-good content, but on the other hand also for information, activation and of course for exchange."
Instagram in particular is an excellent channel here, offering videos and photos in various formats for more personal communication. There is also an extensive and very lively community of book lovers here who exchange ideas under hashtags such as #bookstagram or #instabooks. Even small bookstores, publishers, book experts and bloggers sometimes have very high numbers of followers and interaction that other cultural institutions can only dream of.
The second, publicly funded part of the literature business is the libraries. According to Statista, there are almost 10,000 of these in Germany, significantly more than bookstores. Many libraries are also active on social media. "At the moment, of course, social media is playing an intensive role, we have increased our activities a lot and can now be read and seen several times a day on the three channels we use, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter", explains Anna Jacobi, press spokeswoman for the Berlin library network. In addition, many of them are currently offering advice and delivery services or are responding to school closings.Events such as reading hours or children's activities moved to digital. The easy access to the library's streaming services for books and radio plays, films and music also makes them particularly attractive", says Wibke Ladwig. She also refers to the idea of the #twittothek, which is experiencing an upswing thanks to the initiative of the Düsseldorf city libraries:"The core of this idea was that people on Twitter could ask something that had something to do with libraries and what they offered - and someone from a library would respond".
Anne Schmidt, director of the Sömmerda district library, explains how important the libraries are for their local community: "Many of our readers used the last opening day and stocked up on numerous media. Four times the amount of media was borrowed that day. And then we got this strange feeling: We are there, but our doors remain locked. That's why we quickly came up with the idea of a contactless delivery service to bridge this extraordinary time. The nice thing about our small town is that we know each other, so the owner of our local bike shop and the city council were immediately ready to support the library with this campaign."
Anne Schmidt and Judith Stumptner, Head of Program and Public Relations at the Munich City Library, emphasize the importance of social media: "At the latest with the lockdown and the distance requirement, our fan and follower numbers in the social networks began to increase noticeably faster than before, the need for contact is great and there is also more time. That is why we are now offering a classic educational and entertainment program: photo challenges, a literary meeting and a creative writing course, tips for culture at home or our blog slam "City culture in shutdown". In short: We enable participation in urban education, culture and entertainment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram."Judith Stumptner also emphasizes how grateful the digital community is for this commitment:"Mutual appreciation has increased significantly, or at least people express it more often than before. They also seem to be more friendly and supportive to one another."
All of the libraries surveyed emphasize that they are not using any additional resources for digital communication, but rather freed up resources, thus creating synergies and space for new ideas in the buildings. From April 27, the nationwide networking campaign #wirbibliotheken of the Munich City Library will show what these look like and what current experiences will shape the libraries of tomorrow. With its digital campaign on Erika Mann, the library is already connecting cultural institutions, cooperation partners, cultural workers and artists with one another and making them visible to the public. This shows how important it is for the cultural sector to join forces in order to reach new audiences.
In view of this commitment, one development is still surprising: Although fixed book prices now also apply to ebooks and the demand for them has increased enormously, they currently play a surprisingly minor role in the communication of publishers and bookstores. Only a handful of publishers and hardly any bookstore advertise specifically with digital books or special e-book deals. Here, too, Arena-Verlag is one of the few exceptions. It pays off because "we have seen an increase in the e-book business of + 55%", reports Susanne Baumann. Rebecca Klöber also explains that digital books and audio books are currently playing a major role thanks to the fact that they can be delivered quickly. Random House therefore assumes that digital sales will increase.
Compared to the book trade, ebooks currently play a significantly larger role in the library sector. More and more libraries are offering free and unbureaucratic digital memberships for the time of corona closings. For Anne Schmidt from the Sömmerda District Library, user-friendliness must take precedence over bureaucracy. Your company has therefore always made it possible to register by email. The library is now benefiting from this. This gives you and other libraries access to online lending and thousands of books. Until now, this often required registration and membership renewals on site. For people like me who have a very close relationship with their ebook readers, this offer is not only cheaper, but also less hassle-free. Accordingly, it is very well received, says Anna Jacobi. The Munich City Library, which has been offering free digital subscriptions since March 23, also reports astonishing numbers: "The feedback was consistently positive, within a few days there were over 5000 new registrations. In the meantime there are over 7600 as well as around 1000 extensions of existing subscriptions", explains Judith Stumptner.
Apparently two worlds collide here. On the one hand, the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels laments the closure of bookstores as a basic need and denounces that Amazon is postponing the delivery of books - traditionally focusing on printed books. On the other hand, the German Library Association calls on publishers to make new ebooks more visible in the online library. In contrast to printed books, publishers sometimes only license ebooks for libraries with long delays or not at all. Making them accessible would now offer authors and publishers the much-needed visibility that was missing after the cancellation of the Leipzig Book Fair. The German Library Association also points out that the sales-promoting effect of e-lending is significant, especially for lesser-known authors, as the first reading contact often takes place via libraries.
State Minister for Culture Monika Grütters announced on April 20 that the federal government was launching an emergency aid program for libraries in rural areas. According to this, measures to improve digital equipment and to implement contemporary library concepts are funded, among other things. This approach has certainly also emerged from the numerous ideas and actions of the libraries, which are now showing, among other things, with their digital subscriptions, how important they are in structurally weak spaces.
In addition to borrowing, the purchase of ebooks also works without media discontinuity. When people see books they find interesting on the heavily used social media, they can purchase and download them directly. It is possible that those who have previously been rather critical of them are also learning to appreciate the advantages of digital books. And publishers and bookstores could use that to increase sales with ebooks. In addition to booksellers and publishing staff, there is another group that is suffering from the current drop in sales: the authors. Although they are also beneficiaries of the solidarity with the book trade, their additional commitment to digital readings etc. remains largely unpaid. "The limit is exceeded where the mostly larger publishers request the readings themselves as a marketing measure (...). These readings, which are often broadcast on the publisher's website or a similarly sized platform (...), should definitely be remunerated", so Lena Falkenhagen, Federal Chairwoman of the Association of German Writers, opposite the Börsenblatt.
The author Nina George also pointed out that the literature business should use the current situation for a system update, in which the responsibility for authors and freelancers must also be the focus. And he should make it clear to himself: "An e-book is a book, so let's tap into appreciation - and also added value."
An example of how literary institutions can currently tap new sources of income for their authors is the Literaturhaus Bonn. This offers weekly original literary contributions in letter form for a subscription fee of 5 euros. Creative ideas like these can help change the public image of bookshops and libraries. Wibke Ladwig is also hoping for this: "Even if the future is unevenly distributed in this industry too, one certainly cannot blame it for being dusty and backwooded.I am really very enthusiastic about the enormous creativity and drive with which the book people bring the book with all its relatives to mankind and create lively places on site - even if it is in the digital village for the time being"The basis for this is - as in all areas of culture - a desire for exchange and new formats, curiosity, openness to inspiration, humor and a feeling for topics that inspire people beyond their own products. Only that can"Ultimately get people to go to a place, to appropriate it, and to support it with purchases and services."Trude Schneider also states that"the big leap forward has so far not taken place in the book industry. But I think that important impulses were given."
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