One of the most valuable aspects of going on book tour is the perspective it gives you on book selling across the country. And as I travel from town to town, from bookstore to bookstore, one thing that’s struck me is how quiet all the stores are. In mall stores, in superstores, in major chains and small independents, customers seem to be missing. Many booksellers have told me that traffic has been way down these past few weeks, and they’re concerned. I know it’s of little comfort to booksellers, but nothing else seems to be selling either. Malls are deserted. Stores selling clothing and furniture and kitchenware are all silent. No one seems to be spending money.
What does it mean for the book industry?
Books, unlike milk and bread, are discretionary purchases. Instead of shelling out 7 bucks for a paperback to keep them entertained for a day, customers can just click on their TVs. Or they can head to their local library. There are, thank heavens, many consumers who consider books essential for life and they will continue to purchase books no matter what, but I fear that much-valued segment of readers is shrinking. And with the political season now white-hot, everyone is distracted by the upcoming election and scarcely paying attention to the latest offering of new titles. So it’s easy to feel pessimistic about the current state of book sales, given the tough economy.
But strangely enough, given the bad economy, I think it’s going to be a really strong Christmas for bookstores. I haven’t heard anyone else say this, but that’s my prediction. And here’s why.
No matter how bad the economy may be, we will all be shopping for Christmas presents. We all expect to see pretty packages under the tree. We can’t disappoint our families, so yes, cash registers will be ringing in November and December.
And I suspect they’ll be ringing in bookstores, because how many gifts can you give that will only cost twenty-five bucks? Forget the fifty-dollar blouses and the hundred-dollar sweaters. Forget the expensive jewelry and electronics. Belts must be tightened, and giving a hardcover book as a gift is both thrifty and comfortingly traditional. Books can be passed around and shared with the rest of the family. They can be re-sold on Ebay. As the world goes to hell in a hand basket, we want to give our children gifts that will enrich them intellectually and make us feel better as parents.
At least, that’s what I hope will happen this Christmas.