The Read on Hard Times

panic on wall streetThe warning signs of an imminent recession in the US are growing.  Forbes reported the weakest sales for the retail sector since 2002, indicating consumers might be financially tapped out and pulling in the reins on their spending.  The Associated Press, reporting on December 2007 retail sales figures released by the Commerce Department, said that sales of books, music and clothing – three consumer staples – had declined by 2 percent during the month.  Recession fears also seem to be spreading beyond the US as international stock markets today took a pummeling – some market indexes falling as much as 8 percent in single session. 

So how did book sales fare during the last recession in 2001.  According to a study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, growth in books sales actually remained positive and then rebounded quickly to their historic growth rate (see table).














Books came through this recession better than other forms of reading entertainment – e.g. newspaper and magazines which have a dependency on advertising.  Perhaps people read more during a recession, since this represents a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment.  Recessions, like mass extinctions, often pave the way for the emergence of new business models and buying behavior as they wreak their financial havoc.   So what might we predict from this recession?

  • More exports by US publishers as a weak dollar makes US titles less expensive for consumers in other regions with stronger economies
  • Greater growth in the use of  the book rental services and used book sales as consumers migrate to cheaper reads
  • Continuing growth in e-books and books via e-mail – though these will remain a relatively small markets compared to print
  • Accelerated dismantling of media conglomerates which have not shown the ability to create synergies among media properties with widely divergent business models
  • Continuing fragmentation of the book market, which could favor smalled, more focused publishers in the long term

prayingWhat type of books do well during a recession?  Consumer tastes are always difficult to predict, but here are some guesses that are probably safe bets:

  • Do-it-yourself books – why pay someone else to do it if you can figure it out yourself
  • How-to and educational books – maybe a recession  is a good time to learn a new skill; schools often find their enrollments pick up during recession
  • Self improvement titles – developing those aspects of character that will see you through tough times is the ticket

And for those watching in fear as their Blackberry stock drops in free-fall and as the mortgage mess spreads, stock markets tumble and personal wealth erodes,  perhaps a title that offers spiritual uplift or religious guidance.

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