Books and the Holiday Season

This is shaping up to be a very depressing holiday season—at least in terms of retail. On Friday, the U.S. Census Bureau released some rather sobering figures, including the fact that bookstore sales dropped by 4.5% in September. And if that wasn’t bad enough, in October, the entire retail sector fell by 2.8%, the largest drop ever.

Worth pointing out that book sales are up 1.8% for the first nine months of the year, so this figure isn’t quite as terrible as it first seems. But a steep decline in sales in December and January would be very harmful, especially since those are the biggest sales months for the industry.

I’ve had a few conversations with booksellers recently about the perceived notion that the book business is somewhat recession proof. That during lean times, people avoid buying more high-end presents (flat screen TVs, etc.) and are more inclined to buy a book as a gift, since it’s thoughtful, lasting, and not that expensive.

For the benefit of all stores and publishers I really, really hope this is true. (Personally, a book is about as creative as I can get gift-wise anyway . . .) And to help spur on this idea, Random House is launching a Gifts=Books campaign.

Random is placing the banners on all its sites and in all its newsletters, and will also post them on all major social networking sites, said [Doubleday marketing director Suzanne] Herz. Banners will also be made available to all e-tailers. The New Yorker will do an e-mail blast to 25 million newsletter recipients touting the Books=Gifts message.

In addition, the Bookreporter is counting down 45 reasons why books are the best gifts—one a day until Christmas day. Most are pretty obvious—books are cheap, they provide hours of entertainment—but if this helps get people to buy more books, then I’m all for it. Of the reasons listed so far, this is my favorite:

. . . there’s something available whether you’re naughty . . . or nice

Bookreporter making books sexy one post at a time . . .

(This is where I should insert a blatant publicity plug for our Open Letter subscriptions. At $65 for 6 hardcovers, or $120 for 12, you really can’t go wrong . . . And in case you’re wondering about our spring titles, we’ll be announcing each book individually over the next few days. And if you have any questions—or if you’d like a 6 book subscription to rollover and include books from the fall and spring seasons—simply e-mail me at chad.post at rochester dot edu. I think this is a great gift . . . )

Seriously, even if it’s not an Open Letter book, it’s a great idea to buy books this holiday season. This is an industry that really needs to support itself, and with everyone teetering on the edge, it would be great to hear about some independent stores breaking past holiday sales levels . . .

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