Alice Curry, CEO and Katrina Gutierrez, CCO at Lantana Publishing co-sign an interesting article on the effects of the pandemic on the publishing industry. It's also the first installment in a new series in collaboration with PublisHer, an industry-led movement to bring gender equality to world publishing founded in 2019 by Bodour Al Qasimi.
What it means to be a publishing social enterprise during a global pandemic
On 23rd March 2020, the United Kingdom went into lockdown, and our world changed overnight. Lantana was on the verge of printing 30,000 books at a printing plant in China and shipping them to distributors in the UK, US and Australia ready for a 2020 season jam-packed with inclusive books by authors from under-represented groups celebrating every kind of child and family. But bookshops were forced to close, warehouses locked their doors, printing plants struggled to resume operations, ships were placed under quarantine or stranded at the wrong ports, and travel was banned between zones.
Shell-shocked by this unprecedented disaster, we nevertheless had to move quickly: should we push ahead with our print run despite having no real sense of how long the lockdown would last? Or should we postpone and have no books to sell should restrictions ease and the market open up by Christmas? Ultimately, the answer was self-evident: Put people first. We chose to support our team through those uncertain times by not tying up our funds in stock we couldn’t sell. We chose to support our authors and illustrators whose books had a greater chance of launching successfully when the market had reopened. And we chose to support our readers: helping parents with the daunting task of home schooling, and finding ways to entertain and inspire young readers during this most severe disruption to their education.
We immediately set about converting our backlist to ePub format before partnering with eBook distributors around the world and gifting our titles to Worldreader, a global non-profit providing up to 13 million under-resourced readers in the global south with free access to a library of digital books. We launched Lantana Book Club on IGTV, sharing author- and illustrator-led book readings and free teacher resources to support homeschooling families and relieve anxiety for children under lockdown. We joined film actor Okezie Morro for his inaugural Tàta Storytime storytelling sessions on YouTube, where our books were read by actors Lucian Msamati and Adjoa Andoh of His Dark Materials and Bridgerton fame to the delight of thousands of young readers.
Knowing that the pandemic would presage a substantial economic downturn, disproportionally affecting already vulnerable families, we doubled up on our commitments as a social enterprise. Our ‘A Book for a Book’ programme ensures that for every book purchased from our website, we donate a book to families whose access to books is limited. Since July 2020, we have donated upwards of 4000 books to NHS hospitals and vulnerable families through literacy partners in the UK and the US, including the fabulous Read for Good and Bernie’s Book Bank.
But in the midst of these transitions, the world was shaken once more by the worldwide #BlackLivesMatter movement. Suddenly, our inclusive books, written by Black authors and celebrating the lives of Black children, were sought out by households across the world who wanted to show solidarity with the Black community, amplify Black voices, and educate their children on anti-racism. Partnership requests came flooding in from book clubs and subscription services newly launched to celebrate Black authors, and from organisations seeking to better represent their stakeholders. We joined forces with AntiracismKidz in our hometown of Oxford, and became a steering committee member of the ‘Decade of Diversity’ project launched by UK-based Inclusion Labs whose ambitious goal seeks to increase the percentage of inclusive literature used in UK schools to 25% by 2030.
So have things changed now that vaccines are being rolled out and the pandemic restrictions are slowly easing, in our part of the world at least? For us, not really. Our work begins and ends with our readers, and whether we reach them physically or virtually, via print or eBook, sell our books or donate them when funds are scarce, we’ll keep on supporting under-represented authors and vulnerable families until happier times are here again.
Alice Curry, CEO & Katrina Gutierrez, CCO
Lantana Publishing is an award-winning UK-based children’s publishing house and social enterprise that publishes inclusive books by authors from under-represented groups.