Once Upon a Time …

But What if No One Reads the Books?

We’re a nation of book-buying cheapskates. The number of adult trade books bought by consumers rose 4 percent during the second half of last year, according to a report by Ipsos-Reid. But the number of dollars spent rose by just 1.4 percent as buyers turned to deep discounters and second-hand bookshops. For all of 2002, the number of books sold rose by 3 percent (to 1.14 billion); dollars spent rose by 2 percent (to $10.97 billion). The proportion of U.S. households that bought at least one adult trade book fell to 56 percent last year from 57 percent the year before and from 60 percent in 1997. But book-buying households took up the slack by increasing the number of books they purchased per capita. People who do buy books shopped for them about seven times last year, on average, and spent close to $25 each time. Large chain bookstores accounted for 22 percent of books sold for someone age 14 or over; book clubs (19 percent) and independent/ small-chain bookstores (16 percent) were close behind. Eight percent of book sales were transacted by means of the Internet.

The research firm also assessed the market for children’s books, which “continues to be plagued by a shrinking customer base.” The number of books sold for the 13-and-under crowd fell 2 percent last year, while the amount of money spent was pretty much flat, at $1.91 billion. The report mentions that Census data showed a dip last year in the number of people in the 6-13 age bracket. “And it was for this age group that the cutback in buying was most notable.” Overall, the proportion of households that bought a children’s book slipped from 36.4 percent in 2001 to 34.5 percent last year. The chief retail channel (accounting for 28 percent of unit sales) was book clubs/mail order/book fairs.