A shattered supply chain and unprecedented online demand; how Coach House Books has weathered the pandemic

July 28th, 2020 by Iler Campbell
Coach House Books' Heidelberg printing press

Coach House Books’ Heidelberg printing press

Having some time at home — okay, a lot of time at home — during the pandemic has reminded many Canadians how edifying, relaxing, and downright satisfying it is to read a good book. The pandemic also reminded a lot of us how important it is to support smaller and local businesses. So, as people settled into lock-down, demand for Coach House books was high. But with a shattered supply chain, it was difficult for them to meet that demand.

Coach House Books publishes literary fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, and is one of only three publishers in Canada to print their own books; they have a Heidelberg press in their office, an old coach house in an alley at Bloor and Spadina in downtown Toronto. But the shut-down order issued by the province in mid-March meant that they had to close down the printing shop — at a time when only half of their Spring 2020 books had been printed. Those titles have now been rescheduled for times throughout the rest of the year.

But even for books that were already printed, retail options were very limited: bookstores could offer only curbside pickup (which not all were equipped to do), libraries were closed, distributors slowed their activity to keep safe, and Amazon “deprioritized” books, which meant that they stopped receiving inventory. Luckily, Coach House already had a robust e-commerce system set up on their website. They quickly shifted promotional efforts to further focus on social media, and they offered discounts to customers shopping directly from their website.

Logistics were somewhat complicated: on top of trying to learn how to work from home, only two of Coach House’s six employees could physically get to the office, and Digital Intern Yasmin Emery ended up doing the bulk of the rather significant volume of shipping. Canada Post pickups became impossible, and Yasmin ended up hauling an endless stream of packages to the post office in a bundle buggy.

Two titles were especially affected. Amanda Leduc’s Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space published in February, and had just received a rave review in the Washington Post right before the lockdown; luckily, Coach House had enough inventory in the office to fill the countless orders. Jonny Dovercourt’s Any Night of the Week: A DIY History of Toronto Music 1957-2001 was released in early March. A massive launch planned for the Horseshoe Tavern in late March had to be cancelled, sadly, and Amazon didn’t process the inventory they had on a loading dock somewhere, so the Coach House website became even more crucial. Jonny and CH publicist James Lindsay planned several virtual events, including a conversation with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, and orders flooded in. All told, orders from Coach House’s website were five times higher than usual.

As bookstores start to reopen, Coach House, like other local publishers, is trying to figure out how to navigate a mid- and post-pandemic world. Author tours are impossible, browsing in bookstores is considerably reduced, and media is focused on more urgent things than books — the ways publishers get the word out about their books are all compromised, so they need to reimagine how promotion works. The printing shop has reopened, but the staff of Coach House Books hasn’t returned to the office, which is cramped at the best of times; they are trying to foresee how to keep things on track from a distance. But the enthusiasm shown by readers and the local community make them optimistic for the future.

Iler Campbell is pleased to be there for Coach House Books whenever legal issues come up.

Filed in: Arts, Client Profiles


Similar Posts