Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Will the Economy Affect Book Sales?

So I'd like to a render a verdict on yesterday's Can I Get a Ruling? The people have spoken, and 80% are against the use of "our hero" in queries, although some have pointed out in the comments section that if it matches the world of the book and is done purposefully it can be quite effective. I find this argument very persuasive, I have seen times when it works, and so I believe my own personal feeling is now: if it's done carelessly, 80% of my blog readers will hunt you down. However if it is done with purpose and the effect is intended, it can and should be used with gusto.

Whew! Glad we got that settled.

I like how our inaugural Can I Get a Ruling? worked, so hopefully I'll remember to do them in the future.


As you might have noticed, our economy has seen better days and there is a great deal of uncertainty all around the country. Gas prices are high, pocketbooks are tightening.

So far, the book industry seems to be weathering the downturn -- Jonathan Lyons pointed out that book sales in January were up. But will this trend continue amid higher prices for pretty much everything?

Put on your wonkish policy hat -- will the book industry see slumping sales with the slumping economy? Or will people decide that buying a hardcover beats $40 at the movies?


Always Hopeful said...

People will realize that books, once you've purchased them or not at all if you do so online, do not require gas, $40 (as you said) for a one-evening crapshoot, being annoyed by restless children, talkers, and cell phones.

People will read for comfort, information, an adventure-in-the-privacy-of-their-own-home.

And, if those within the publishing industry work hard to write/edit/publish high-quality projects...well, it can only help.

benwah said...

I'd seen Lyons' post on booksales and found it encouraging. It seems there is always a great deal of "the sky is falling! the sky is falling!" when it comes to the publishing industry. I wouldn't expect book sales to flatline, but like many other extraneous expenditures, I'd expect people to curb their book spending.

Then again, I'm likely not the best judge, as I haunted the bookstores even during my ramen noodle days.

gwen said...

Socio-economic commentary is not my strong suit... but what I can tell you is that books have become far more precious to me with this current trend of tightening pocketbooks and skyrocketing gas prices. I am far more likely to scrimp and save for a particular book that I've become interested in than I am to buy a new skirt or go off to the movies.

The answer to your question could go one of two ways:
A) People decide books are not all that important, and will dedicate their money to other aspects of ther life. They may perhaps lock into the literary market online - books available for download, stuff like that.
B) People decide books are important, and pay more attention to what's on the market so that they can make a better decision on what they would and would not like to dedicate their money too.

Although... all of that research about which authors are big right now in the genre I mainly support isn't always helpful. I just bought Jay Asher's THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, and it was a big disappointment.

**useless commentary ends here**

Furious D said...

Who could really get hurt is the movie industry (specifically theatrical ticket sales). It costs about the same to buy a paperback as it does to take one person to a movie. (At least here in Canada)

But you spend more time enjoying the book over the movie, so it may be seen as a better buy entertainment wise, by those who are already leaning toward books.

And when you add the cost of gas, parking, snacks, etc... the book becomes an even better buy from a monetary standing.

So an economic downturn could be a good time for books, if handled right by publishers.

tsherf said...

I'm of the opinion that most book buyers will keep on buying even with the financial sky threatening to come crashing down, Henny Penny. This is because most book lovers are more like benwah than not.

People who actually buy books--before or after they hit the big screen or even, gasp, if they never do--can't get away from it if they tried (and they generally have no desire to do so)! In fact, they'd probably be more than delighted to curb their ramen eating in order to be able to get just one more good book off the shelf and into a loving home--theirs.

On that note, I think I'll do without dinner tonight and visit Barnes instead.

Ulysses said...

Books are entertainment. On the one hand, as discretionary cash dries up, people will likely spend less on entertainment. On the other hand, as the economic news grows more grim, people might be more likely to seek out escapist entertainment.

I don't actually see the economic picture affecting the overall balance of entertainment spending between books/videos/other forms of entertainment. I expect the book percentage of the entertainment dollar to remain pretty steady. However, I expect the amount spent on entertainment overall to decrease.

Ulysses said...

Hmm. I used the word "entertainment" seven times in six sentences.

Sigh. It's back to writing school for me.

Linnea said...

In the past, economic downturns drove people to look for a means of escape from the uncertainty of day-to-day living. Books and movies filled the need before so I expect they will again. Books are less expensive, portable and great for sharing. I think the publishing industry will be just fine.

John said...

I believe the publishing industry is headed for a train wreck, but it has little to do with the economy per se and everything to do with technology.

beth said...

Book sales remain stable or even go up during this time...cheaper than movies, more lasting than them...when you can't shop, and nothings on TV, books are the go to form of entertainment!

John said...

P.S. I notice most of the comments so far have to do with the rewards of reading (and presumably writing :) books, rather than with the publishing industry. Not necessarily the same issues at all!

Adaora A. said...

It looks like you're a good judge and we're an excellent jury! Yes more of those please, there are so many areas which we could all cover.

I think the book industry will weather it well. I remember it being mentioned briefly that in times of trouble (although people are in varying degrees of trouble), folks turn to cheaper entertainment and transport methods:

1. Bus/train/walk it to your place of work and or residence and save money on gas.

2. Host a block party with boom boxes and save money on food.

3. Buy books which will take you a couple of weeks to read at various cheap prices rather then spending $10 a pop on cinema (and that's not even including the price of film snacks).

4. Eat out less. Make gormet food (or a gourmet disaster depending on your ability) from home and invite friends.

5. Have a grown up sleepover party with cheap mixed cocktails and dimly lit flashlights upon which to read under.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

I don't know -- to me, if you're a book lover, nothing will stop you from buying your favorite authors' next book, or from trying a new author that you've heard great things about.

I can give up going out to the movies. Heck -- within 6 months, tops, most movies are available on DVD -- Netflix anyone? I can't give up reading. And books are the one thing that my kids can ask for and I will always say yes.

Of coure, I have an entire bookcase of TBR books and still manage to accumulate new books on a continuous basis.

Adaora A. said...

@John - The book industry is the publishing industry which is the people who write, distribute, represent, and speak on behalf of authors and or themselves representing books. I don't think the publishing industry is in trouble at all. There is just going to be many options available to those who are a part of the industry. There are still desktop computers, and many believed that they would not be made or used anymore when the laptop/notebook. People like (not you persay) like to catastrophize everything and think of the 'worst case senario that a new techn invention would have on any particular industry it might impact. People forget to find the middle ground.

Y2K the end of the world anyone?

Lupina said...

I predict sales of how-to books on finance, thrift, finding jobs, turning hobbies into cash, etc. will waft upward if the economy keeps ebbing. Sales of expensive hardcovers may go down, but on the whole I think publishers will stay in the game as readers will continue to seek their fix. Perhaps new readers will even emerge as people seek free entertainment venues like libraries. And eventually, they will want their own books. How's that for optimism?

Josephine Damian said...

Nathan Bransford, Our hero.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say if sales are up, if people are still buying books - it's non-fiction books they're buying - diet, self-help (especially financial self-help these days), politics, Eat-Pray-Love styled memoirs, etc.

Look at the 2007 bestseller stats - it's the non-fictions that are selling..... Me? Even if had dough I still would buy few if any books. I'm at my (very busy) library every week now..... so far this year I've opened THIRTY books with the intention of finishing them, but was only able to finish THREE due to just plain bad writing/plotting/etc.

I think the fiction market has more problems above and beyond the economy.

I think the amount of time people spend online has drastically affected reading and book sales.

At a conference I attended recently I was told that there are more people (guys) playing for the NBA than there are writers making a living/supporting themselves with their writing. It seems if there are big sales in fiction, it's only a handful of authors who are doing any selling.

Other Lisa said...

Two words: trade paperbacks!

I want hardcovers if they are books I intend to keep in my personal library, but for books I want to read and pass on, I love the trade paper format and wish more books were released this way. Trade PB are a great way to economize on book-buying. I hope the publishing industry thinks about this.

I don't like reading pocket paperbacks much at all. Not as reader-friendly.

Josephine Damian said...

Lupina: My library is more jam packed every time I go, with long lines for check out.

How many of these folks are there because they stopped buying, because they can rent them for free?

I think the Harper Collins news about not paying advances is writing on the wall for what's coming in the book industry.

Tom Geller said...

I don't know about the market in general, but a faltering economy is likely to help my upcoming antiforeclosure book from Kaplan, "Save My Home: 10 Steps to Avoiding Foreclosure".

I'm considering a follow-up book that's more generally about wealth, which will also (I hope) benefit from the down cycle. It's a book I've been thinking about for years; now seems like the right time to strike.

The point is that there are always counter-cyclical opportunities. When home values go down, self-storage unit values go up, and the movies were a great place for a writer to work during the depression.

Anonymous said...

All kinds of retail sales are hurting (not just Border's) with big chains closing hundreds of stores all over the country in all kinds of sectors. They're blaming the economy; why would book sales not suffer similarly? Esp. with used books and library books so readily available ...

Jay Montville said...

I have nothing useful to add to the commentary on the effect of the downturn in the economy on book sales.

However, I am totally co-opting Nathan's strategy of


to change from one topic to the next in my blog posts from now on. (I may also use it in my next novel and then query Nathan with it ceaselessly until he relents.) It's simple, it's effective, it's meta and vaguely Foster Wallace. I love it.

Anonymous said...

I believe the reports are wrong. Publishing is not as healthy as it looks. While the percentages are based on sales, it says nothing about UNITS sold. If you compare the number of books sold this year against last year, you will see sales are down.

You can always up the numbers by raising prices.

John said...

Adaora @ 11:00 a.m.: I hope I didn't come across as a prophet of doom for the future of reading in general or books in particular!

But I do think the publishing-industry beast is about to be clobbered by the same forces that have clobbered the music- and movie-"publishing" beasts. It (publishing) seems to be idling along in this "well, you know, books are different, they're always going to be like they are now, our business model is always going to be like it is now, our relationships with our creative partners are always [etc. etc.]."

Umm, no. I don't think so.

Margaret Yang said...

When I have money, I buy books. When I don't, I go to the library. I read the same amount, regardless.

Perhaps many are like me. When the economic tides turn (as they always do) and bust turns to boom (as it always does, eventually) then I will buy books by authors I fell in love with at the library.

At the library, I take a chance on authors the way I don't do at the bookstore. So I will probably discover the new and wonderful now, but not buy until later.

In summary: it's bad in the short term and good in the long term.

Anonymous said...

Books are relatively cheap entertainment, and should see increased sales during economoic downturns. Look at book sales during the Great Depression (I haven't, so I'm hoping they were up).

Will Entrekin said...

Why hardcover, anyway? I think trade paperbacks are going to become more common, and they're substantially less expensive, as well as more portable.

I like hardcover for collecting, but not so much for reading.

Jenny said...

Don't forget the impact of recession on public Library budgets. Libraries buy a lot of books. The policies of the past 8 years have shifted so much of the expense burden on towns and cities so that even before this recession towns and cities have slashed library budgets deeply. Now with tax revenues declining, municipalities have gone from cutting library budgets to closing libraries.

Beyond that, when you see how many retailers are folding or going into bankruptcy including catalog houses you have to know that book sales whether in stores or online are going to be hit hard.

One huge problem is that people don't have disposable income with which to purchase necessities. They are tied into their $100 cable bill, their $70 cell phone bill, their enormous SUV payment and the rising cost of the gas they need to drive to the store to buy the increasingly expensive food they need to eat.

When people don't have discretionary income, they can't buy books no matter how much they would want to.

So yes, publishing will take a hit as will every other discretionary product.

Just_Me said...

Book sales.... I think people who buy will keep buying and those who are borderline readers might try reading rather than movies. But I don't think the economic downturn will convert die-hard TV fans to turn off the boob-tube and read a book. Depends on whether or not they have to shut of cable maybe.

I have a question for the general public, and you, Nathan.... The music industry is hot at the moment over copied and shared music. Musicians and vocalists want to see money back for every copy of their song in your house. In the publishing industry authors only get a percentage of the original sale, although a used book may resell multiple times.

Do you think that the changes in reading formats, such as kindle, will drive authors to stop resales of books? Will this effect the readers or libraries?

Sam Hranac said...

I agree, Jenny. A lot of homes are being foreclosed. Food prices are only beginning to go up. There is a rice shortage to the point where farmers are protecting their fields with guns. It is going to get worse before it gets better. Libraries are going to begin to look good to a lot more people than will Amazon.

Serenissima said...

For me the decision to buy fewer books and use the library more had nothing to do with the economy and everything to do with the environment.

Anonymous said...

look, I have stopped buying LOTS of things, vacations, that new car I thought I was going to get, clothes (I don't go naked) (I have plenty of nice threads), movies (because too many people smell in close quarters, wear too much aftershave/perfume, smell of smoke and popcorn,put their feet up behind my head... did I say STINK? OK, Nathan, if you can go on a snit, I can too, snitting in a circle, then recomposing myself)

but on Friday I did go out andbuy
$77.00 worth of paperback novels. The ONLY book I decided NOT to splurg on was a nonfiction -that one I would have bought in the past, but this time I just read it in the bookstore and left without buying it.

BTW I went to Barnes and Noble and there were only TWO employees for the whole two story store including the help desk and the cash register. I asked and the clerk said yeah, cutbacks and that the store now REQUIRED the clerks to sell so many books an hour or else!


Jackie said...

I think a sagging economy would boost book sales. Books provide an inexspensive adventure and vacation. J K Rowlings has handed that same idealism back to our younger hat is off to her as I bow in gratitude for re-introducing books back to our children.

Mystery Robin said...

I know I'm personally going to the library more - andit's all about the economy, or my personal recession. LOL!

Dwight Wannabe said...

Will the economy affect people buying books?


Will the economy affect the bookselling industry?

Given that Borders is on the bankruptcy ropes (and not because of their book sales, which are up...

Looks like it. Yep.

John Arkwright said...

As a professional economist, my answer is as follows.

Duh. Yes. Negatively.

The other answers are too clever by half.

Jackie said...

@ Dwight, please forgive me if I offend you but I beg to differ, I do believe book sales are up directly due to our slumping economy. People are more likely to watch television or read.

LOL so our we due for a Political change or do we craftly model our future? hee hee hee

Paul West said...

Someone, I can't recall who, did a study of this. His conclusion was that a poor economy does not negatively affect book sales. In fact, it seems to boost sales slightly. I wish I could recall where I read that so I could cite him.

But for me, while I'm not advocating for a poor economy, I'm excited about the prospects.

Jackie said...

Nathan, please give me information if you have any...why is J K Rowling a "patron" of a Multiple Sclerosis Society organization? Does she have MS or does someone within her family have MS? (Scholastic is reporting that she is a patron-her Publisher)

Shuck said...

"This too shall pass bunkie," said the Dr. to the kidney stone patient! Most of you are not old enought to remember Black Tuesday,1929 nor the tight oil supplies of the early seventies. Some may not even remember Black Monday,1987. The economy will eventually correct itself,(with no help from the pols) but book sales will remain strong. What every person knows; when times get hard you can always curl up with a good book!

Anonymous said...

the $77.00 worth of books I bought last Friday were based on you guys and what you recommended and raved about the last time Nathan asked what we were reading!

Adaora A. said...

@John - Oh I see your meaning now. You make a point, but I'm just saying things will even out. There are still other ways of doing things then just the new way or the fad. I think that's the way it will be for a long time to come.

Tom Burchfield said...

Information is a valuable commodity in hard times, I would think, so some kinds of books would do better; "How to get a Job in Hard Times." "How to Save Money When None is Coming In." "How to Print Counterfeit Money When Saving It Doesn't Work."

*My* book sales however, will go through all roofs, as discussed this week in my posting place:

Jackie said...

@Tom ha ha ha "how to print counterfeit...",could you tell me how to sow that thread in there too???

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Gas goes up, people stay home, people need something to do.

So they read.

I love all books, but I admit a weakness for the tacky traditional paperback. Besides the price point, they're too convenient and don't hurt my hands when I read in bed (or my face when it falls on me as I drift off).

Anonymous said...

I think books will look better than $40 for movies, or the price of gas to go just about anywhere else. With the price of gas, some folks may have to cut their premium cable channels (*gasp*) just to pay for $5 per gallon gas.

Yes, books are looking like more entertainment value for the buck - especially since Amazon will deliver them right to my door (and as long the terms on my Amazon Prime account don't change, I'm not even paying more for the delivery - yet). ;)

J.P. Martin said...

I think that great marketing coupled with a great book can trump any economic trend. Amidst the current real estate slump there are still real estate agents and investors who are making sales (and not just in Manhattan). I think that literature has the same potential.

Mary said...

I hate to be pessimistic, but we’re just at the start of a global downturn. Rising food and oil prices, unemployment and property re-possessions. Disposable income could shrink dramatically, and book sales will suffer.

A Paperback Writer said...

Adaora, can I come to your sleepover readathon party?! It sounds like fun.

Jackie, yes, JKR's mom died of MS when she (the mom) was in her 40s. The Leaky Cauldron reports that JKR has helped to found a society named after her mother which supports women. JKR's own website has a section on which causes she supports. I believe there is something about MS among those.

Was it Erasmus who said, "When I get a little money, I buy books. If there is any left over, I buy food and clothes."? It seems an appropriate quote for this post.

superwench83 said...

I know little to nothing about economics, so it was interesting to read the comments. And it will be interesting to see what happens with this in the future.

I do think this will have an effect on the way books are published, at least in the genre I read and write in. Fantasy publishers may be less willing to print a novel in hardback, so instead of a hardback first printing, the book may just be sold as a mass market paperback. I think this because readers with less money will be more likely to opt for a new paperback than a new hardback. $25 or $7? If you're short on cash, that choice is easy.

Jackie said...

@ A Paperback Writer
We do not die from MS, we die from complications with MS...I have MS, :) don't apologize-I am thankful for having it because it has created the personality I have, with having MS we can very easily miss the signals of an ailment that is serious (we don't get the red flags)

Jackie said...

@ Paperback, ty very much though for telling me that

J.P. Martin said...


Kristin from Pub Rants recommended your blog on her blog today. Just thought you might like to know.

And while I'm posting again, Nicholas Sparks has a WRITER'S CORNER on his website where he mentions that his agent was 27 years old and only 6 months into the business when she represented him--for those people out there who doubt you younger agents. I never doubted you though!

Tiffany Kenzie said...

I'd imagine books will still stay in fashion... I would think there would be a down on sales in Trade size though I know someone else said otherwise--but let me tell you--they are 20$ in Canada...hello, I can get more bang for my buck in mass market. s

When economy is down and cash is tight, ppl generally need some sort of escapism... books are a lot cheaper than the movies. Look how popular movies were during the depression.

Linda said...

Several studies show when the economy is down, people continue to buy "luxuries", but they are downscale from when the bull is running. In other words, folks trade in their champagne for lattes, their broadway tix for books. In fact, books and coffee are two of the most popular commodities in penny-pinching times.


(And, lucky me and my day job, applications for graduate schools also aoom up).

The good times are a rollin'! Peace...

Jan said...

If I have anything to do with it ... book sales will stay up.

Give me a good 'ole hard cover any day over a movie at $50 bucks...

And when you take two kids and their friends it's over a $100.00

But I'm a book worm ... but I may have to start checking more out from the library and buying less???

Because I really want to be able to read about "our hero" :o)


Jan said...

Another thing ...

Maybe it's just that I'm now at the age of bifocals & needing them :)

but I can't stand reading on-line, so I don't see technology doing it for me.

I need a book - even when I'm writing and editing my own MS ... I have to print it because my eyes tire when I'm reading from my lap top.

So 'all hail the book', may it live long...

Kim Stagliano said...

I think books and liquor are recession-proof. People might not buy the more expensive hardcovers -perhaps waiting until the paperback comes out. But a $10 movie last only 2 hours. A $10 book lasts forever on your shelf. And you can share it. A good deal. Scotch is a good deal too.

Our gas is $3.49 a gallon today, regular unleaded.

Linda said...

Speaking of bifocals... that should be ZOOM a couple of posts above. NOT aoom. Peace...

deborah b said...

The more depressing things get, the more we need to escape from reality. Books= escape. Are ya with me?

Speak Coffee said...

Books as escapism. Just like movie ticket sales increase during economic depressions I think books will follow.

We're willing to pay a little bit for a 400 page vacation but forego the 4 day trip to Maui.

A Paperback Writer said...

Thank you for correcting me. I will be more careful in the future. I admit my ignorance of this disease. Good luck in your battles with it. May its progress be very, very slow.

Anonymous said...

Totally off topic, but I like the way you segued into the next discussion:


It's brilliant! Succint, direct--readers get it. I may have to incorporate it into my own work.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Poking my head in from the RT convention to add 2c...

Historically, entertainment has done well in recessions/depressions. People need to take their minds off their troubles.

Now to market ourselves so that people are picking up books and not watching the mail for the latest Netflix.

Erik said...

My belief is that some books will do very well. I expect books that are escapist but have a strong tie to reality as a jumping off point to be particularly good sellers.

I expect that the Male Ennui genre will die. Hope.

Whirlochre said...

Here's a workable 3-point plan for someone.

1 ) Scrap novel.

2) Write Balance Your Bucks: A Survivors' Guide To The Recession.

3) Purchase island.

Gail said...

Short answer: Yes

Long answer:
E-books are cheaper. No gas expense, less middle man expense. Payoff is immediate gratification. Guess where shrinking disposable income is going to be spent.

Jeff Abbott said...

From today's Shelf Awareness newsletter:

Following a rise of 4.7% in January, bookstore sales in February surged 11.4% to $1.1 billion from $1 billion in February 2007, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. For the year to date, bookstore sales rose 6.7% to $3.4 billion.

By comparison, total retail sales in February rose 6.9% to $314.7 billion. For the year to date, total retail sales were up 5.8% to $627.8 billion.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, bookstore sales are of new books and do not include "electronic home shopping, mail-order, or direct sale" or used book sales.

Red said...

I don't know about the average person, but I do know the results of the economy on me:

1. I turned off my cable. Television and Internet access both.

2. I started going to the Library regularly, both for internet access, and for free books to read.

3. I am putting loads of my stuff, including about 3 boxes of paperbacks, into a yard sale.

4. I moved to a cheaper apartment.

5. I ride my bike more often. (In good weather.)

6. I eat out less. (Except with regards to Little Ceaser's hot-n-ready pizzas. Cripes, $5 each, and they feed me for 3 meals!)

7. I have read more books in the past 3 months than I had in the past 3 YEARS, and have greatly enjoyed the change. I have also written around 20,000 words of my novel in the past 2 months. (Note: I expect this rate to increase.)

I think books are a much better entertainment value than just about anything else. However, the average Joe knows less about any given book than he does about any given movie; movies just have better advertising and more title recognition.

Will the economy affect book sales? Possibly, especially with regard to transportation costs of both materials and finished books. I think the more interesting question becomes "Will you pay $5 more per book than you did last year, and still buy the same number of books?"

Anonymous said...

I haven't read any comments, so I hope I'm not repeating anyone. But Nathan I think you put it well when you said "Or will people decide that buying a hardcover beats $40 at the movies?"

I know a lot of people who have decided this already. Now let's just hope book prices don't start to jump too.

Jackie said...

@ A Paperback Writer, I looked for some type of email addy for you and just wanted to tell you "Thank You" :) It really is a blessing though, for my entire life I have always been a person to figure out how to get from point *a* to point *b* the easiest, fastest on most concrete way...that is a blessing

Thank you.

Adaora A. said...

@paperback writer- Oh suuuuuure. It'll be so much fun!

Jackie said...

I check every agents site to see what they represent and who they work for...I just got another confirmation of a query I sent a week ago and am in absolute terror that an agent I querried this morning may work for that company (I know that it is a no-no to query a co. more than once)

*Is it possible that some send out a confirmation repeatedly?*

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
scott jones said...

Motley Fool reports "Books are flying off the virtual shelves at (Nasdaq: AMZN). Revenue grew a whopping 37% and net income swelled 30% in the company's first quarter. It wasn't just books, either: Amazon's electronics and merchandise segment posted 56% revenue growth."

southernbelfry said...

The economy is bound to have some effect but I don't believe (hope) it will be significant. I have a friend who found herself in financial trouble and has cut her expenses to the bone. Still she buys hardcover editions of everything that comes down the pike, always has a stack of new editions beside her bed. We have to escape somewhere.

People will get creative and swap and cruise garage sales but the surest market are those people who buy authors and will have to have his/her latest work.

Conversely, they say that during hard times people turn to entertainment for escape. Movies boomed during the Great Depression.

Related Posts with Thumbnails