Friday, March 14, 2008

Bookstore sales in the scheme of things

This report is just in today from Publishers Weekly, the weekly magazine of the book publishing industry:

"Despite some soft sales reports from the chains (meaning Barnes & Noble, Borders Books and Music), bookstore sales got off to a solid start in 2008, posting a 4.7% increase, to $2.28 billion, in January, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The increase was nearly the same as gains for the entire retail segment, which had a 4.8% increase in January."

Of course this report is really only about bookstore sales which represents only about 40% of the books sold. The Census Bureau has a hard time tracking the other 60% of the books sold in any given month. So many are sold now in supermarkets, hardware stores, Coscos, gift shops, museum book and gift shops, or by catalogs and of course, online.

I keep my finger up in the wind about book sales and I don't think March's sales will equal that January solid start, as they call it. We are in a recession and the only person who doesn't know it is President Bush. I have a friend who has predicted that in a year we will have riots in this country over gasoline, food and other basics. With corn taking more acreage for fuel and less wheat being grown and the middle classes in third world nations such as India and China now competing with us for that same corn, wheat, oil and gasoline available in the world, things don't look good for book sales in the next year.

And books are part of our educational system. Textbooks are getting old in schools. Years ago when I worked for Oxford Books in New York City, we received a huge supplementary text book order from the White Plains, New York school system. Turned out the city's high school burned down overnight. So we started joking about replacing some salesmen with pyromania squads.

But the truth of the matter in more ways than one is as Jonathan Kozol wrote in his The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society: "This is a society that most of us did not create but which our president and other leaders have been willing to sustain by virtue of malign neglect. Do we possess the character and courage to address a problem...."

There's more than one problem in our society and sales of books are way down on the priority list when you consider such things as the recession and that half the population of New Orleans has been driven away from their city, permanently.

Except that solid growth in the publishing industry would help fight both illiteracy and the recession. But I'm not optimistic. Today on the ABC Radio News it was reported that now that gold is selling for more than $1,000 an ounce, people are gathering together their gold jewelry to sell. They need to do it to help make ends meet.

It doesn't look good.--Copyright 2008 by Walter Haan,


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