Chris Meadows speculates at TeleRead on whether the current pandemic will doom face-to-face retail. Once you start thinking through the facts of the situation (would that facts were actually in readier supply) it does become tempting to believe the worst. Anything is possible, and extremes provide a siren call for analysis. (Mr Meadows is innocent of this implication: his piece admirably balanced, despite the arresting question in his headline.)

However I think it’s important to recognize that the outcome of any disaster is obviously not likely to be the best of all possible worlds, but even more importantly, it’s also likely never to end in the absolute worst possible situation. Even those dinosaurs didn’t all drop down dead from one week to the next. Like all things I suspect the outcome will be more nuanced, landing up somewhere in the middle.

There were quite a few bookstores in precarious condition before all this started. They might be compared to those over-70s with pre-existing health conditions. Some of them may make it, and we’ll rejoice when they do. Others start from a stronger place and will doubtless be able to withstand greater stresses. Mr Daunt appeared to be on the right track with Barnes & Noble, giving store managers more responsibility for inventory selection, but this must be putting the whole operation in danger. Layoffs continue apace — let’s hope that our government can get it together to vote support to laid-off workers and small businesses before too many members of Congress are forced into self-isolation!

When we come out the other side of this, as inevitably we will — it’s in no virus’ interest to kill off all its potential hosts — we’ll probably go about our business in different ways than we did before. I’ve been saying that these are early days, and we haven’t yet figured out how to behave under these conditions. Already we are seeing lines painted on the sidewalk outside the supermarket, which is letting people in in small groups, and is showing the queue outside how it should be spacing itself out. Governor Cuomo, who seems to be having a “good war”, was inveighing against all those New Yorkers in the parks last weekend. I dodge and weave when running through the park, and have observed these groups too. A father kicking a football with his two children is a very different story than a group of unrelated youths playing basketball. The family members live in close quarters anyway: the youths come from all over. We need to take care we don’t forbid the first while trying to stamp out the second.

In the case of bookstores, it does seem to me that people rather like having them. Just as the supermarket has the beginnings of a system, so too in a little while will other retail businesses. People want something to read, and we’re clever enough to work out a way to get it to them. I wrote about kerb-side delivery the other day: better systems will develop.

Available from Books Are Magic; half the proceeds go to Binc (The Book Industry Charitable Foundation), the other half to support store employees during the shutdown.

Good news: Pennsylvania which had last week ordered a shutdown of a long list of businesses, has over the weekend decided that printers are providing an essential service and may now continue in operation. Paper mills are also allowed to operate. Once printing works and distribution services shut down distributing books will become almost impossible. Without bookshops, and with Amazon prioritizing household goods and medications, it’s hard to see how anyone’s going to get physical books in any way other than direct mail. Ingram, which is so much more than a book distributor now, has announced it’s staying open. As Shelf Awareness tells us on 23 March, “Noting that it has book distribution and printing facilities in five U.S. locations, in the U.K. and Australia, Ingram Content Group has affirmed that it is remaining opening despite a range of shelter in place, lockdown and other restrictions put into place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ingram’s wholesale, distribution, print on demand, and digital services are considered essential, allowing the exemptions, the company said.” Here’s the Publishers Weekly account.