As consumers seek to compensate for budgets threatened by spiraling fuel costs and the rising cost of essentials such as food, one of the discretionary budget areas where they're cutting spending is on books.
The book business in the United States in 2007 registered $29.93 billion in sales, producing 2.377 billion units, about the same as 2.383 billion in 2006, according to the Book Industry Study Group.
While the book business has been relatively stagnant in recent years and even months, it now appears to have turned the corner downward.
Net sales of books in April fell 3.5 percent to $472.7 million, based on data from 79 publishers as reported to the Association of American Publishers.
Not all sales were down. Among the book categories registering increased sales were inexpensive e-books, up 19.9 percent to $3.4 million; university press hardcover sales, up 12.1 percent to $5.6 million; adult mass market sales, up 4.7 percent to $53.2 million; adult trade paperback sales, up 4.5 percent to $118.3 million; and audiobooks, up 1.7 percent to $12.6 million.
The categories showing sales increases were offset by those declining. Among the book groups registering decreased sales were higher ed, down 30.5 percent to $8 million; religious books, down 21.5 percent to $34.2 million; children's/YA hardcovers, down 19.9 percent to $39 million; university press paperbacks, down two percent to $2.7 million; the important adult hardcover sales category, down 4.6 percent to $110 million; and children's/YA paperback sales, down 3.1 percent to $39.3 million.
According to Great American Bargain Book Show organizer Larry May of Knoxvile, Tenn., one of the strategies bookstores and other book retailers might pursue in the wake of declining sales is to acquire inventory at lower cost.
"Most bookstores buy stock for 20 to 40 percent off suggested retail," May said. "But they can buy remainders and other bargain books for as much as 90 percent off retail price. That means they can sell the books for less in a time when consumers are spending fewer dollars on books, and still make a higher profit margin."
May said an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 bargain book titles will be offered to buyers at bargain basement prices at the Great American Bargain Book Show, held at Atlanta's Cobb Galleria Center. "It's a great opportunity for bookstores and other retailers to stock up for the winter holiday season, which accounts for a disproportionate part of annual book sales," May said.