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Are Consumers Buying more or less Books?

19 August 2002

Recent figures from the US and the UK paint a rather different picture of prospects for the book business over the next few years. In the US Veronis Suhler, the merchant bank which specialises in media transactions, has recently estimated that consumer book spending declined by 0.6% in 2001. The bank believes that this figure should improve to a 2.1% growth in 2002, but the forecast for the next five years is that spending on books will be stagnant and will be overtaken by other forms of entertainment spending.

In the UK the outlook looks rosier, with intense competition amongst the bookselling chains and supermarkets bringing about extensive discounting. Over the last four years total book sales in the domestic market have increased by 22.5%, although the year to date has been rather variable and has shown poor sales of fiction.

Book sales in both countries will be affected not only by pressures on consumers' time and competing entertainment attractions, but also by general levels of consumer spending. If the US does now experience the dreaded double-dip recession, then book sales this year will be lower than Veronis Suhler have forecast. In the UK the consumer book market looks more stable, but it will still be affected by general levels of consumer spending and by consumers' willingness to put their hands in their pockets when it comes to buying books.