As business leaders grapple with the impact that Covid-19 and the current economic landscape will have for their companies, many are simultaneously playing offense and defense in a short, medium, and long game all at once. And because of this, many are considering a pivot as the best shot at success. --Chelsie Rae Lee, Fast Company ("How to tell if your business should pivot during the coronavirus crisis")
I've been a little elegiacal in this column since the global Covid-19 lockdown started a hundred weeks ago, so I thought it might be time to pivot in another direction. Pro basketball seems the least obvious choice. Let's go there.
The pivot is "a movement in which the player holding the ball may move in any direction with one foot, while keeping the other (the pivot foot) in contact with the floor." That's the rule anyway. It's also what was drilled into us as young players--keep that pivot foot nailed to the court when you're not dribbling. The concept is more loosely defined now, especially in college and pro ball. Exhibit A: James Harden's "gather step." Lesson: Adapt to get the job done.
In the book world, words matter more than foot placement (putting nostalgia for "foot traffic" aside momentarily). And certain words often become coins of the realm in media coverage. Twelve years ago, for example, I wrote a column headlined "Turn Page, Chapter Ends, Close Book," exploring "the curious art of headline writing when the subject of an article happens to be the book business, and bookshops in particular. Here is the apparent rule: If an article is about a bookstore, the headline must contain a play on words involving books, pages or chapters."
Two years ago, I highlighted media reports that "disclosed, with barely masked shock, the apparently surprising ability of indie booksellers to 'survive, even thrive' (as the headlines love to proclaim) more than two decades of incessant retail assault by the likes of Amazon and chain bookstores."
Gayle Shanks, co-founder of Changing Hands Bookstore, told the Phoenix Business Journal: "Everything we're doing has been done in some tiny way before. Now we're actively telling our customers this is a good way to support us."
Ever since Covid-19 compelled indie booksellers to reinvent their business models overnight, the new watchword has been "pivot." Entrepreneur magazine even managed to offer a combo platter recently: "Once you have stabilized your business it's time to focus on the future. Here are 5 ways to pivot your business to not only survive, but also to thrive." A brief sampling of other noteworthy pivots:
I think it's a good word for what's happening. Bookselling This Week was on its pivot game by March 18 ("Indie Bookstores Pivot to Boost Business During COVID-19 Outbreak"), and indie booksellers are playing, too.
"Right now pretty much pivoted to being an online business," Jason Jefferies, marketing manager at Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, N.C., said in an Indy Week article.
At BookPeople, Austin, Tex., general manager Charley Rejsek told the Statesman the store's online capability was increasing and the next step would be shifting more author appearances online: "Most definitely that's our next biggest pivot that we're going to make, transitioning events to digital."
Online sales, formerly a small portion of business at Pegasus Books, with three stores in Berkeley and Oakland, Calif., have increased dramatically, Inc. magazine reported. Owner Amy Thomas noted: "We're pivoting, but what we do as bookstores, with events and readings... [running] another kind of bookstore to keep everybody going for a while is fine, but long term, we need to be back in the store."
Kathryn Grantham, owner of black bird bookstore, San Francisco, Calif., observed: "I didn't want to lose who we are in the pivot to the web shop." Condé Nast Traveler reported that rather than make every book available for purchase, Grantham is curating themed boxes. "Customers following us on social media have been avidly shopping from us. A silver lining during this difficult time."
In 2010, I wrote a column about 11-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson--a writer, reader and book evangelist. He used to give his players reading assignments during the season. I noted that "in a world where books often seem to matter less, there is this guy coaching in the NBA to whom they matter a great deal. And his team just won another damn title."
One of Jackson's former players, Pau Gasol, knows the toll the pandemic has taken in the U.S. as well as his native Spain, where his mother is a doctor and his father a nurse. USA Today reported that he "searches for hope and meaning during these times."
Reading and learning are his key pivot points. Gasol just finished Edith Evan Eger's The Choice and Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, which was recommended by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr. He is currently reading a Jackson recommendation, Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of MotorcycleMaintenance.
"It's been hard. A lot of uncertainty. A lot of fear as well because of the unknown," Gasol said, adding: "I hope this is an opportunity for us to figure things out together instead of pointing fingers and the tension building and leading to bigger problems." Sounds like a good game plan.