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Book Making Consumer spending on books was virtually flat in 1996-by far the industry's worst performance in at least a dozen years. The long-term trends that propelled the business at an average annual growth rate close to 6 percent collided with a massive shift in the way books are sold. The result: last year's stall. But the growth drivers are still in place: First, the sustained economic expansion has caused an increase in consumers' disposable income; second, the fastest-growing slice of the population is the 40-plussers, a segment virtually shunned by Hollywood and TV programmers, driving them to books; finally, the arrival of "new" media has spawned book categories about new media, not to mention selling opportunities such as amazon.com, which makes it easy to buy books. The dislocation spawned by the arrival of superstores may also have run its course, meaning, perhaps, that the industry can get back to growing. Last year saw a 6 percent decline in the number of titles published, but a 40 percent increase in advertising-for an average 49 percent increase in advertising per title. Publishers, apparently, are picking targets more carefully but using larger-caliber ammo.-Alan Gottesman (westendal pobox.com) is principal of West End Consulting.

THE GOTTESMAN FILE
Current strategy: fewer titles, more advertising
..........Book titles.....Ad spending.....Ad dollars/title
.....1992.....49,276.....$97,637.9.....$1,981
.....1993.....49,757.....$99,948.5.....$2,008
.....1994.....51,863.....$86,393.6.....$1,666
.....1995.....62,039.....$103,472.5.....$1,668
.....1996.....58,465.....$144,908.5.....$2,479
.....Sources: Veronis, Suhler; CMR. Ad spending in millions of dollars. Ad dollars/title in actual dollars.