Bookstore Sales a Sign of Recession?

by Sean Hackbarth

Back during the mild recession of 2001 I was gainfully employed at a Barnes & Noble bookstore. We knew the economic downturn was approaching and prepared by beefing up book sections and offering as wide a selection of books as we could. That seems counterintuitive since an recession means a reduction in economy activity.

That does happen, but consumers’ mix of purchases also changes. Instead of buying expensive dinners, vacations, and cars people hunker down in their homes. Things like DVDs, music, and books become relatively more valuable. Consumers see a bigger bang for their buck with something that gives them 2, 3, 4, even 10 hours of entertainment.

That memory from my bookstore days came back to me when I read this GalleyCat post on bookstore sales so far in 2008:

Following last week’s announcement of a 4.7 percent increase in bookstore sales for the month of January, the Association of American Publishers released its own statistics on book sales yesterday, claiming a 7.2 percent increase in sales over the same time frame.

Possibly interesting details: A 21.9 percent drop in children’s and YA hardcover book sales is matched by a 28.2 percent increase in children’s and YA paperbacks. Adult paperbacks jumped up 37.6 percent, while hardcovers posted a modest gain of 4.2 percent. And both audiobooks and e-books continue to rise, by 16.8 percent and 26.1 percent respectively.

This does look like consumers are looking for value. Less-expensive paperbacks are chosen over more-expensive hardcovers. If we’re not technically in a recession book buyers are acting like we are.

Book Sales Off to Good Start in 2008?”

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