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Book Sales Plunge in the US

26 November 2001

Recent reports from New York suggest that the only people in the book business likely to do well this autumn are the remainder dealers. A New York Times report indicated that sales even of best-selling authors, usually regarded as 'bankers', have plunged by 25 to 40 per cent. Carolyn Reidy, president of adult publishing at Simon and Schuster, said: 'I have never seen anything like it - I have seen softness in the market for books, but always the bigger books still sold - that is why the falloff in name fiction is so horrifying.'

Since the big American trade publishing houses are so dependant on sales of big authors' books, this downturn in sales right in the middle of the most important selling season will have a disproportionate effect on their profits. Don Weisberg, chief operating officer of Random House, North America, said he forecast eighteen months of tough times ahead. 'Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs in the last couple of months, all potential book buyers' he said.

In difficult economic times, publishers tend to cut their lists and shed staff. In the UK Penguin has recently announced 49 redundancies and HarperCollins will lose 19 jobs.

It's not clear to what extent book-buyers are reacting to the continuing war in Afghanistan, or whether they are primarily affected by the weak economy and the fear of lay-offs. The theory that books withstand recession rather well, being a relatively cheap form of entertainment, does not seem to be holding up too well at present.