16 September 2007

What's the reason behind the flat Book sales ?

There can be several reasons why the book industries sales are flat, and are predicted to remain flat for the foreseeable future. If there is one example of why the two major book chains and the slew of independents are in trouble, is because of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

When it went on sale 2 months ago, it was carried by everyone. Not just bookstores, but grocery stores, department stores, and discount retail chains like Target and Wal Mart. Then there was the online retail stores like Amazon and Deep Discount DVD (which just got into the book business this year), not to mention the warehouse stores. It was so widely distributed by Scholastic (after all, they had a 12 million first printing) that you could literally go almost anywhere, besides a bookstore, to buy it. It was like they thought that Joe America, driving his 18-wheeler on I80 could buy his book at the truck stop in Nebraska, thus not having to search for that old chestnut, the bookstore.

And to me, that’s a bad thing. I have no problem with other outlets carrying books like Target and Wal Mart. But when they start to increase their presence in the market, by taking a deeper discount than either Borders or B&N can take, then there is something wrong.

Oh, true, these other outlets don’t have the breath of stock that Borders or B&N have, but according to recent survey’s, American’s are reading -when they do read - popular fiction that you can get at other stores besides the traditional bookstore.

One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released a few weeks ago. Of those who did read, women and seniors were most avid, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices.

According to the survey (which as was conducted from August 6 to 8 and involved telephone interviews with 1,003 adults. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points), a typical person said they read four books in the last year. Not very ravenous, me thinks. Then there was a Gallup survey in 2005 that asked how many “started a book” and the typical answer was only 5 -down from 10 in 1999, but it was close to 6 back in 1992.

In 2004, a National Endowment for the Arts report titled Reading at Risk found only 57 percent of American adults had read a book in 2002, a four percentage point drop in a decade.

The AP-Ipsos poll also found that of the 27% that had not read a, a third were men and a quarter were women. Plus, of these non-readers, they were older, of low income, from rural areas and less religious.

Then there was split between fiction and non-fiction. Among avid readers surveyed by the AP, the typical woman read more books in a year, at nine, while men only read five. Women read more than men in all categories except for history and biography -which more or less confirms that men have always liked reading non-fiction. And when it comes to fiction, the gender gap gets pretty big, with men accounting for only 20 percent of the fiction market.

People from the South read a bit more than those from other regions, mostly religious books and romance novels. Whites read more than blacks and Hispanics, and those who said they never attend religious services read nearly twice as many as those who attend frequently, which I find very interesting. Does that mean the success of those Left Behind books are based on those lapsed church goers?

I also found it fun that the survey said that there is also a political bend when it comes to reading, with Democrats and liberals typically reading slightly more books than Republicans and conservatives.

The most popular category read by two-thirds surveyed were the Bible and religious works. Popular fiction came next, with other categories such as biographies and mysteries being cited by about half, while one in five read romance novels!

Part of problem with non- readers, and a popular excuse it seems, is they claim they get “sleepy” when they read. One person in the survey said he would “rather spend time in his backyard pool” than read a book. While there are others who cannot go a day without reading.

Then there’s the fiction gap, which is confounding the book industry. I read an article on Publishers Weekly that talked about this issue and says “cognitive psychologists have found that women are more empathetic than men, and possess a greater emotional range—traits that make fiction more appealing to them.”

Some say that this gap begins in childhood, and that’s because, according to Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain, girls can sit still for much longer periods of time than boys”, thus they have an easier time with reading. Plus, at least where I grew up, reading by boys -especially fiction- was seen as weak and not manly (whatever that means).

Plus, while more boys read the Harry Potter series than girls, they’re still reading less than a generation ago. Some are blaming this on television, movies and the Internet. What worries some with in the book industry is that these young kids who are not reading will not read when they get older, thus causing more problems for the typical bookstore -be it huge chain or independent.

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