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The Digital Sector
Melvin Kaabwe

When lockdown restrictions were eased after SABA engagements with Government, fewer customers flocked to Bookstores than to Liquor retailers! Strange times indeed! 

Online sales of physical books are continuing to grow but less rapidly, and likely peaked in August. The sale of e-books was higher than usual across Academic and General by ±20%. Some publishers offered materials for free as a social response to the pandemic. Smaller stores and independents adjusted their websites for e-commerce and acquired social media shopping carts  for acquiring orders and as payment gateways and they used local courier services or even their own cars to deliver putting further pressure on their margins. Exclusive Books’ delivery was through UberEats reflecting that customers requesting delivery is up to 40% higher than for the same period the previous year for the chains.

Most University librarians were under some pressure to provide prescribed and reference materials during the pandemic to address the distance learning and new normal of mixed modalities. Some municipal libraries have highlighted their partnering with e-Library platforms to serve patrons online.

Streaming and rental services providers are uploading more local content. Perlago, a streaming service for books similar to Netflix’s style of all-you-can-eat content for a set monthly fee, is gaining traction.

Independent stores also offered digital vouchers for use online and also for future use to keep customer loyalty during the pandemic. Van Schaik Rewards Programme mobile app was a similar initiative for students.

Virtual bookfairs, book-launches, author interviews and online book clubs are viable alternatives to in-person events during the pandemic and SABA’s e-profile has grown proportionately. @SABooksellers has a following of more than 2 000 on Twitter, which means SABA is an influencer. The digital newsletter and magazine provide further impetus to drive traffic to the SABA website.

In the first round (of three) the SABookseller’s Survey is underway. Members have already begun returning the questionnaires with inputs from SABA, PASA and the SABDC for collation and tabulation by the University of Pretoria Department of Informatics. The objective is to provide trends and insights at an affordable rate for SABA. 

SA Booksellers Online Course has had it’s first “graduates” complete all modules this year.

Catching the crest of the wave has necessitated many to think digital but, this has provided some respite from the storm and enabled ongoing business in these strange times.

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