22-Apr-2020 Wow, just a month or more since writing my last Gleaner piece and our world has tilted alarmingly. I don’t want to use this space to editorialise, but some amazing changes have happened, with extraordinary speed. For the first time in 45 years, Gleebooks was shut—just like that. Events moved, and continue to move, so quickly that we have had great trouble knowing what to do, when to do it and how to do it. There was prospective ruin, then there was Jobseeker, which was dutifully and painstakingly taken on board. And then, in a matter of days, there was Jobkeeper—a very different rescue package to save jobs, and, hopefully, business.

And all this, we assumed, was predicated on a substantial loss of business. Shut three shops and that’s what you’ll get. No events, no Sydney Writers’ Festival, a couple of dozen people instantly out of work unless we can instantly reinvent ourselves. Days and days of chaos while we scrambled to deal with customer confusion and expectation (‘surely you can’t be shut, you’re essential’), and with all of the orders and forward publishing programs. Not to mention the horrors of a disrupted supply chain—just how long will a book take to arrive from the US or the UK? Answer, no idea, until all this is over.

There has rarely been a time in my life when reading couldn’t help save my world—but the stress around the prevention of a pandemic sees me with our two best selling books, Hilary Mantel’s instant classic The Mirror and the Light and Julia Baird’s beautifully intelligent and reflective Phosphorescence waiting by my bed, and all I can concentrate on is the ridiculous task at hand of an immediate recasting of Gleebooks as online bookseller—offering great deals and spectacular service. I even resorted to posting a cute photo of my six month old cattle dog (and delivery helper), Lottie, to shamelessly promote us.

The result? A beautiful, heartening, welter of support from you, our customers, ordering widely and deeply from our website (amazing how many people didn’t know we’d had one, for twenty five years). And a maniacal dedication from our loyal staff to home deliver as much as we possibly could, to demonstrate our better than Amazon efficiency (and to save as much money as we could). I have a renewed respect for delivery people, it’s a hell of a job. We’ve caught up with customers we’ve not seen for years as well as finding some new ones. I’ve had conversations about COVID, about books, about Gleebooks, and about life in general that have been enormously rewarding. And I’ve taken part in a handful of media interviews about COVID and business/Gleebooks that have varied from being perceptive and worthwhile (Annabel Crabb) to downright ignorant and worse than useless (my lips are sealed).

What have I learnt? That we are a small but meaningful cog in the lives of some, and that, sometimes, we all have to adapt (and fast!) to changed circumstances in a vastly more important and bigger world. When it’s all said and done, we just sell things for a living. And, fingers crossed, once we are ‘out the other side’ as they say, we will still have a business in one piece, and a chance to welcome you all back to our bookshops for a leisurely browse. It’s been quite a ride. David Gaunt