The blockade in August and the ongoing blockade in Auckland have caused people to turn to books to escape.
That’s despite the fact that bookstores are not allowed to sell books during level 4, and can only publish them for 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, a journalist, and an editor for Metro magazine.
She said books are a comfort when people lead such isolated lives.
“We can only endure so much screen time,” he said, and many people were forced to connect for both work and social contact during levels 3 and 4.
“There is very good physiological evidence of what happens when you read, your brain works in a completely different way, you are paying close attention and the various parts of your brain just work together in a way that they do not when you are ‘on the screen’ .
Legat said the books are psychologically and physiologically critical.
Evidence and anecdotes point to the fact that people have wanted books during the New Zealand blockades, he said.
“Certainly bookstores have found that by the time they can open again, even at level 3 click and cash and online, you know that sales are skyrocketing because people are desperate to get their hands on new ones, because it is known that new ones will come on the market throughout that period. “
Legat said that during the latest lockdown there was also anecdotal evidence that people who hadn’t read a book in years were doing so.
“I think that really explains why book sales have been pretty strong because people got back to reading, realized how much they enjoyed it, and stood firm.”
He said that somehow the blockade helped literature “to attract people to what is actually an ancient medium, but which I think will always endure.”
Books should be ‘essential items’, says Legat
After the first lockdown that left booksellers in the lurch when books were not listed as essential items, they made submissions, particularly to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) which controls what is considered essential items under the tier system. Alert, Legat said. .
“We felt very reassured that that would never happen again, so we were very surprised that the books did not appear as essential in the level 4 that we just had.”
Legat said New Zealand is the only country in the English-speaking world that bans the sale of books to consumers under Covid restrictions.
“Was not allowed [at the start of level 4] that the owner of a bookstore entered his store and fulfilled the orders in line, that was absolutely prohibited, he could not enter his place of work “.
He said that after a couple of weeks, MBIE changed the requirements to say that retailers could supply educational books, but there was confusion around this. Also, distributors were closed and it was impossible to get new books at this time, he said.
Legat said that Covid-19 has also caused transportation problems for all publishers, particularly multinationals like Penguin and Random House.
“They all have their distribution sheds in Australia and of course last year after the planes stopped flying, because they used to transport their cargo by air, once the business was up and running and going back to level 3, they had to resort to maritime transport. “
But he said that fewer ships and port congestion have caused tremendous disruption to supply chains, making it difficult for publishers to bring their new releases to the New Zealand market.
Te Papa’s university and publishers feel very fortunate that their stock is being kept in a New Zealand warehouse and that they are able to avoid some of those distribution problems, he said.
Legat said that with books not available at level 4 and not freely available in stores at level 3, people are more likely to turn to Amazon and the Book Depository to order them.
“I feel like Amazon and Book Depository are not friends with the New Zealand book ecosystem, they take the trade from our bookstores, we need bookstores.”
Legat said even those two big companies had trouble getting books to New Zealand due to supply chain issues.
“But it’s always a big shame that people can’t buy locally, if you’re buying a book from Book Depository, it’s coming from Australia, it might even come from the UK, it has huge air miles to start with and it’s just stealing some business from your local bookstore. “