Months ago, in what now feels like another era, publishers planning their 2020 schedules hoped to avoid releasing books in the fall, typically the industry's biggest season. Editors and writers worried that new releases would be lost in the deluge of political news leading up to the presidential election, so publishers jammed some of their biggest titles into the spring.
Now, a reverse exodus of sorts is taking place. Publishers are pushing back the release of dozens of books to summer and fall, in hopes that by then the coronavirus outbreak will be waning, bookstores will reopen, and authors will be able to tour and promote their work.
Some of the most anticipated titles of the spring have been delayed by weeks or months.
"Bookstores are shuttered, everyone right now is worried about their health and their livelihoods, there's so much anxiety," said writer Laila Lalami, whose new nonfiction book, "Conditional Citizens," was scheduled to come out from Pantheon in April, but has been moved to the fall. "It makes sense to postpone it until there's a bit more clarity, until we know what's going to happen."
Some publishers are even moving books to next year.
Such moves are a gamble, given the uncertainty surrounding the course of the epidemic and the economic crisis. Some publishers worry that the situation could be even worse in a few months, if more warehouses and distribution centers close, and if publishers have to confront reduced capacity at printing presses.
Paper shortages could also become an issue, as more paper stock gets consumed making cardboard for deliveries of essential products.
"For authors, it's really tough," said Daniel Halpern, the publisher of Ecco. "You work on a book for two or three years, and suddenly you find it coming out in a plague. There's so much unknown, and there's so much changing every hour."
Publishers who are delaying books now, in hopes that they can sell more copies in the future, are facing revenue shortfalls in the meantime.
Artists in every field, from musicians, dancers and opera singers to actors and television writers, have seen their livelihoods and income disrupted, or in some cases evaporated, as theaters, comedy clubs and studios have closed in the face of the epidemic. In some ways, the publishing industry is better positioned than many other businesses to weather the impact of the coronavirus. Books are in a way an ideal medium for this moment: Reading is a solitary act, and people who are sheltering in place may turn to books for escape, solace and connection.
But the longer the economic and public health crisis lasts, the harder it will be for publishers and book retailers to keep their companies afloat.
There's a growing fear that the temporary closure of bookstores around the country may in many cases become permanent.