Book sales are outperforming the wider economy, according to the latest sales data from Nielsen BookScan. For the eight weeks to 21st February, volume sales grew by 0.1% to £32.4m, compared to the same period in 2008, while the value of books sold declined by 1% to £238.6m.
The volume growth has come despite a slumping wider retail market, the continued fallout from the collapse of Entertainment UK late last year, and adverse weather conditions earlier this month. The Confederation of British Industry said this week that retail sales fell heavily in February although the fall was not as marked as in the previous month.
Though the market remains marginally down on 2008, it is considerably ahead of a comparable period in 2007. In the eight weeks to 21st February, volume sales are up 5.2% compared with the same period in 2007 and up 5.6% in value terms.
The figures have led publishers to be cautiously optimistic about the start to the year. Garry Prior, group sales director for Random House Group, said: "[We] had a solid start to the year with a number of books topping the bestsellers lists, but February is proving a bit tougher."
A spokeswoman for Hachette UK said: "Hachette has had a good start to the year: sales of Stephenie Meyer [titles] are outstanding and this week’s bestseller lists underline the strength of the rest of Hachette UK’s publishing in the first couple of months of 2009."
Bloomsbury executive director Richard Charkin, said: “In difficult times people seem to be turning to quality, reliability and good value and books represent all those things.”
At HarperCollins, a spokeswoman said there had been “a couple of stand-out books in different areas of the market”, notably Endal and Wetlands.
However, there was a warning this week that the publishing industry could be a vulnerable area within the media sector. Andy Viner, head of media for BDO Stoy Hayward, said: “The bookselling side is more vulnerable than others in the media sector because it has a higher fixed cost base, and is under more price pressure from the supermarkets—which will continue and get more intense.”
However, he struck one note of optimism. “A number of players will come through this stronger,” he said. “The shape of the industry and the number of players will probably change over the next two to three years. If that gives some power back to publishers, that will be a good thing.”
. . . but retailers remain cautious.
The growth in volume sales has not stopped retailers from warning of uncertain times ahead for the book market.
Book supply has been affected by EUK’s collapse and problems at wholesaler Bertrams/THE, as it continues to search for a new owner.
Kes Nielsen, head of book buying at Amazon.co.uk, said: “It’s not easy out there and these are uncertain times.” He said that Amazon.co.uk had benefited from movie adaptations of books, with titles such as The Reader and Watchmen selling well.
He added: “There’s an opportunity for companies that concentrate on the basics and keep customers happy to do ok. If we continue to provide great availability and pricing then we will put in a credible performance.”
At Tesco, category manager David Cooke said: “Our share is still down on last year because we have missed out on some range sales but our share with key titles is where it should be.”
However, the independent sector reported a better than expected start to the year. Ian Nicholson, owner of Alison’s of Tewkesbury, said: “The picture is not as bleak as newscasters make out.” Inga Sweetman, of City Books, Hove, Sussex added: “We’re very perky and very upbeat.”
I linked the whole piece because I couldn't find a pull quote that would best sum it up.
My first response is to make a connection between Rusch's comments over movies, and how this article actually notes that some of the best selling books are those related to movies. Beyond that however, no one seems to be saying that things will pick up in a recession, but rather that the book industry isn't doing so bad, even though the industry is marginally down than the previous year.
Anyhow, make of it what you will.