Coronavirus and the Antiquarian Book World

Hey all you cool cats and… wait, what platform is this again?

Just kidding. We know this has been a stressful month (or more) in many of our lives. Things look so very different today than we ever imagined they would, and so very different than they looked just a few short months ago. We are doing our part by staying home and distancing ourselves from others – and we know you are too! (Especially because you’re reading this blog.) We thought we’d do a quick Q&A with our master and commander, Vic Zoschak, on how life has changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. No fear mongering, no obsessing… just good old-fashioned bibliophiles talking about life.

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Q: So Vic, times are kind of crazy right now. What is personally keeping you sane during this pandemic and quarantine? Is it books? Is it being able to still go into the shop, lonely as it may be occasionally? Or… is it Netflix and manhattans? :)

You got it Ms P!  Which is to say, for now, I’m able to head into the shop 5 days out of 7, which goes a long way towards combating going the ’stir crazy’ tendency at home.  Samm & I are staggering shifts, as it were, so as to adhere to the social distancing guidelines, but nevertheless I’m able to continue working, albeit fewer hours in a given day.  Those other hours are, indeed, spent at home, so there’s been a jump in Netflix time as well.  Now into NCIS season 13.  lol

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Q: Vic, based on everything I’ve seen on our social media sites, bibliophiles seem to not know how coronavirus might be affecting the book world. It is hard for outsiders to know what kind of effect it is having on our (book) community at large. Other stores can be a bit more obviously impacted. What have you witnessed?

Well, for me, as a bookseller who emphasized primarily on-line sales, it’s not been so much of a change in terms of how things operate, vis-a-vis my colleagues who depended on walk-in traffic for their livelihood.  However,  the sales side has been negatively affected to some degree, which, I believe, reflects the ’stay at home’ mandate in place across the country, which has caused massive unemployment.

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Q: Have you experienced surges or losses in sales over the last month or two, or have things remained much the same? Personally, I think being stuck at home is a great opportunity to research and buy some antiquarian books, but then again I have also purchased several bathing suits while in quarantine. For non-existent beach life! I simply can’t be trusted.

Not surges in sales, nor precipitous drops, but rather a gradual drop-off… see comment above.

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Q: How has this pandemic influenced book fairs in the United States? Which have been cancelled, what has that done to people’s livelihoods, and also the most important question… do you see the fairs being rescheduled once this has passed, or do you think it will last long enough to make rescheduling redundant?

Here in California, the local Sacramento Book Fair, scheduled for March 28th, was cancelled.  Paris, this month, has been [imo, optimistically] rescheduled for the fall.  Melbourne, this July, was cancelled.  In other words, book fairs across the globe are being postponed or cancelled.  With some infectious disease experts saying it might be 2021 before large gatherings are again ‘doable’, I’m wondering whether book fairs will happen again this year.  I hope I’m wrong, for I would love to attend the Boston fair this coming fall, but I’m not buying my plane ticket just yet.  But with large gatherings questionable, in response, the ABAA and IOBA are investigating a virtual book fair.   Time will tell is this is a viable substitute.

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Q: We imagine that as late president of the ABAA you are still involved in some of their important discussions. Anything you can share with us on the ABAA’s feelings about this virus and its effect on the book world?

Actually Ms P, it’s my experience, both as President, and immediate Past President, prior individuals in the job are not as involved as you imagine..  past presidents have a couple responsibilities, such as serving a trustee on the ABBF, but once the torch is passed, we past presidents are little involved in the day-to-day of ABAA administration. As to the ABAA’s stance, it’s my view that they are very concerned about the pandemic’s affect on the trade, an example of which is their effort to host a virtual book fair.

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Q: What advice might you have for bibliophiles stuck at home with some down time during this quarantine? Have you been reading anything good? Is it time to start a collection? Or time to sell a collection? Or… is it time for us to finally read Bleak House?

That’s a good question.  Presuming one has time on one’s hands, and some available discretionary funds, I say its a good time for developing one’s collection, for you can spend time searching out those elusive titles that one needs to fill the gaps.  And, of course, one can now spend some reading those volumes that have sat on the bedside table for oh-so-long!

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