The August lockdown and the dragging lockdown in Auckland saw people turn to books for their escape.
This is despite the fact that bookstores are not allowed to sell books at level 4 at all and can only publish them to online buyers at level 3.
At level 4, books were not considered essential items unless they were “educational”.
Auckland-based Nicola Legat is currently an editor at Massey University Press, but has also worked as an editor at Random House, journalist and editor-in-chief of Metro magazine.
She said books are a comfort when people lead such isolated lives.
“There is only a little screen time we can handle,” she said, with many people being forced to go online for work and social contact at levels 3 and 4.
“There is very good physiological evidence for what happens when you read, your brain works in a completely different way, you pay close attention, and the different parts of your brain work together in ways that they don’t. when you’re on screen. “
Legat said the books are both psychologically and physiologically critical.
Evidence and anecdotes show people wanted books during New Zealand’s shutdowns, she said.
“Certainly bookstores have found that by the time they could reopen, even at level 3 with click and collect and online, you know sales are skyrocketing because people are desperate to get their hands on the new ones, because you know they are coming into the market throughout this period.
Legat said during the last lockdown there was also anecdotal evidence that people who hadn’t read a book in years were doing so.
“I think that actually explains why book sales have stayed pretty strong because people started reading again, realized how much they liked it and stuck with it.”
She said that in some ways the lockdown has helped literature “draw people into what is actually old media, but which I think will last forever.”
Books should be “essential items”, says Legat
After the first lockdown which left booksellers in a bind when books were not listed as essential items, they made submissions, particularly to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) who controls what are considered essential items in the alert level system, Legat said. .
“We felt very reassured that this would never happen again, so we were very taken by surprise when the books were not listed as essential in the level 4 that we just had.”
Legat said New Zealand is the only country in the English-speaking world to ban the sale of books to consumers under Covid restrictions.
“It was not allowed [at the start of level 4] for a bookseller to walk into their store and fulfill orders online, it was absolutely verboten, you couldn’t walk into your workplace. “
She said that after a few weeks, MBIE changed the requirements to say that retailers could provide educational books, but there was confusion about that. In addition, the distributors were closed and it was impossible to get new books at that time, she said.
Legat said Covid-19 has also caused freight issues for all publishers, especially multinationals such as Penguin and Random House.
“They all have their distribution hangars in Australia and of course last year after the planes stopped flying, because they were carrying their cargo by air, once business picked up and picked up on level. 3, they had to resort to sea transport. “
But she said shrinking ships and port congestion have caused huge disruptions in supply chains, making it difficult for publishers to get their new releases to the New Zealand market.
The university and the publishers of Te Papa feel very lucky that their stock is kept in a New Zealand warehouse and so they are able to avoid some of these distribution issues, she said.
Legat said that with books not available at level 4 and not available for free in stores at level 3, people are more likely to turn to Amazon and the book custodian to order them.
“I think Amazon and the Book Depository are not friends of the New Zealand book ecosystem, they are taking the business from our bookstores, we need bookstores.”
Legat said even these two huge companies are struggling to get books into New Zealand due to supply chain issues.
“But it’s always a shame when people can’t buy local, if you buy a book from Book Depository it’s from Australia, it could even be from UK, it has huge air miles to start with. and that’s just robbing your local bookstore of some stuff. “