We lost 80% of our income overnight, but we hadn’t lost our customers

April 17, 2020 2 min read

I cycled home from work last night. No cars, birdsong, no diesel fumes. You’ve always got to look for the positive.

The day the virus hit, that weekend where the Peak District and every other national park was as busy as it has ever been, also saw our thriving, expanding and exciting publishing business grind to a halt.

The staff couldn’t come in any more.

International borders were shutting, we couldn’t rely on printed books being delivered.

The pound crashed on the currency markets. Even books we print in the UK rely on overseas inputs and these just got very expensive.

An author based in northern Italy had her tour of Korea cancelled, which resulted in the return of over 500 books, then another 200-plus events for the spring and summer were cancelled one after another. Some authors persisted, talking to smaller and smaller audiences, before giving up. Thousands of returned books, many getting lost on an increasingly fragile courier network.

We talked to staff here about their futures.

Waterstones shut, all the bookshops shut, wholesalers shut, some owing us thousands, with no sign of us ever being paid again.

Then our distributer shut without warning. Tens of thousands of books stuck behind locked shutters, lorries threatening to unload pallets outside while we hastily found an alternate warehouse. Amusingly, we did find a warehouse with plenty of space and a unique way of dealing with the virus: it’s right next door to the old Bradwell nuclear power station, surprisingly cheap storage, plenty of space too.

Still, we have the internet. The good old reliable internet. After all, Amazon were a solid thirty per cent of our sales, until they messed with their algorithm and pointed all searches to digital products, and stopped ordering books. All books, any books, our books. That’s it then. No income.

But you know what, we’re climbers, what would a climb be without a crux? You can sit down and die of hypothermia when a storm hits on the mountain or you can get on with it.

While we had lost our distribution and our sales channels, what we hadn’t lost was our customers. We also had two things on our side, two super weapons. Turned out many of our customers had time on their hands to read a book, and that after fifteen years of publishing outdoor-adventure books, a few people out there really liked us, wanted to help us. We just needed to connect what books we did have in the office store with our customers, and make it super easy to order from our website. No faffing around with shipping costs. A bit of discount and selections and recommendations.

And every day more bad news gets thrown our way: today a bit more bad debt, but we still have customers. We even have a few good causes we can send some of the returned children’s books that have come back in not quite saleable condition – they have been going out free of charge to schools remaining open for the children of keyworkers.

So the point is: you never lose everything. We haven’t been ill, it’s just money. The world won’t be the same again, and if we move a step or two closer to the people who read our books (and stop hiding behind Amazon) as a result, then that is a positive.