Bookshops are experiencing an “extraordinary” boom in New Zealand as Kiwis commit to buying local to resuscitate the economy following seven weeks of lockdown.
Booksellers around the country say they’re experiencing “Christmas” levels of demand post-lockdown, as many readers have sworn off shopping offshore following the Covid-19 crisis, which claimed 21 lives in New Zealand.
“People are really thinking about where they want to spend their money and the businesses they love. They got a taste of what it was like if you weren’t there,” says Jenna Todd of Time Out book store in Mt Eden, Auckland.
“We’re in this space where people are wanting to spend money and support local. A lot of people haven’t spent money in a long time. Some people have more money than they usually would from not commuting or going out to dinner.”
Despite the looming economic downturn and projections by the International Monetary Fund that New Zealand’s economy could contract by up to 8% this year, a number of new independent bookshops are pushing ahead with launches, including Renee Rowland of The Twizel Bookshop, who will open a new store in Timaru in June.
Rowland says local support post-lockdown has encouraged her that readers are more active than ever, and will support her venture rather than buying cheaper books from the likes of Amazon.
“I think the experience for many people over lockdown is people would rather spend $40 on a book they can have in their hand and take home and keep forever, rather than spending lots at the pub or something,” Rowland said.
“There is a sense from the locals and visitors that if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. People are coming in and saying “yah, you survived, I want to buy a book”.
Although stock delays of between four and six weeks have meant the shelves of many bookshops are emptier than usual – especially of the current international blockbuster reads – the upside has been a huge growth of interest in New Zealand literature – easily obtainable for local booksellers, and currently “flying off the shelves”, according to Rowland.
Auē, winner of the Ockham award, remains the best-selling New Zealand novel, according to Nielsen; with Shayne Carter’s memoir and Elizabeth Knox’s The Absolute Book remaining popular, as well as older New Zealand classics such as Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries.
Libraries have also been benefitting from the apparent book boom, with borrowers queuing round the block.
There is an orderly queue forming outside the Dunedin City Library!— Aaron Hawkins (@A_G_Hawkins) May 20, 2020
Reopening from 10am-4pm today, and (like all branch libraries) running on limited capacity and reduced hours for the time being pic.twitter.com/BwmotTxAVv
Todd of Time Out bookshop says while some found their reading concentration hampered by the stress of Covid-19 and lockdown, many have rediscovered their love of literature.
Jo McColl, the owner of Unity Books in Auckland, said she hopes if New Zealand were ever forced to re-enter lockdown books would be considered an essential service, as customers relief on being able to return has been “extraordinary”.
“People have been just overjoyed to be able to return. For our customer’s books are as important as decent food and a good bottle of wine – to them books are essential.”
McColl says she is feeling “confident” about Unity’s long-term survival, and the future of the bookshop trade in New Zealand.
“I’m feeling buoyant actually, it’s been an extraordinary time and New Zealand has really, really pulled together.”