Before the massacre in publishing began last week, there was some talk that books were recession-proof. Thankfully a small shred of evidence now points that way. Nielsen BookScan shows that for the week ending November 30, bookstore sales are up 6% as compared with Thanksgiving week 2007. For the most part, that’s without the literally door-busting discounts offered by general retailers. Sales were especially strong with independents and children’s books.

Just as rising gas prices made us think more about where and how we drive, let’s hope this nasty recession bug reinforces the true value of a book. What makes a better gift than a book that enriches, entertains, informs? Books are good for us individually, and they’re good for society. And there’s no dilemma about regifting. When you’re done enjoying your book, you do the environmentally friendly thing and trade at your local used book store. Why buy anything else?

The company delivering this morsel of hope is the same Nielsen that compiles ratings used to decide which TV shows stick and which get canned. In a related development, Nathan Bransford reports there’s a Harper UK website, Authonomy, where books are ranked by readers rather than reviewers in a more formalized version of the Amazon sales tracking phenomenon. But what do these rankings really tell us? This week satirist Stephen Colbert poked fun at the concept by urging viewers to all download his Christmas album at 5 p.m EST on Wednesday, with the idea of propelling it to number one in the iTune rankings.

What does the future hold for independent reviews? Were they ever really independent? And do we need them? Or do shall we all just follow the herd, tracking with the cult of the masses?


  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    I hadn’t heard that stat or any indication that book sales are “up” in any way — so glad you pointed it out!

  2. Now the question of course is whether the trend will continue. The industry is missing a big opportunity, I think, in not doing a big campaign about the value of a good book. But then they’re never that organized, and collectively neurotic to boot.

  3. Karen J Laubenstein

    Dana Stabenow pointed out how the recent closings and layoffs at the major publishing houses may not have anything to do with the recession, but has everything to do with how the industry has spent millions on celebrity books, had only a few people making decisions on what gets published, and ignored the technology advances. She’s hoping the publishers will take a hard look how to get quality stories the public wants to read and will turn the industry around in a positive way. Until I read her comments on our Alaska Sisters in Crime Social Network, I hadn’t thought of it that way. The newspapers closing, the recent publishing news, the predictions it was going to be harder and harder to get stories published — all the doom and gloom — were depressing. It’s good to look at it from Stabenow’s perspective, I think! By the way, we love these blogs on our AKSinC network (we get rss feeds). Keep up the great work!

  4. An excellent point. We can definitely hope that the industry corrects in a positive way. Unfortunately the insiders are saying right now that publishers are likely to hug even tighter to their celebrity authors as a sure thing during these uncertain times. Adversity brings opportunity, as the adage goes, and maybe we’ll see positive fallout in tech advances if nothing else.

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