Skip to Content

Christmas sales better than feared

17 January 2005

In the end Christmas was less of a disaster than the book chains on both sides of the Atlantic had feared, and there was even some guarded optimism. The rush into the shops did come very late, with book buyers delaying their shopping till the very last moment, but books proved popular Christmas gifts and the book trade did in fact get its annual bonanza.

In the UK Ottakers issued a profit warning, but in the end 56% of the respondents to the Bookseller’s post-Christmas survey reported that total sales for the month of December were up on 2003, with a further 28% thinking they were level with last year. As reported below in News Review 13 December, Christmas jitters, there was widespread and deep discounting, with the chains managing to sell a lot of the heavily discounted bestsellers but independents losing out because they could not compete on price

In the US Barnes and Noble was up 2% on the 9 weeks to 1 January, not very exciting figures, but better than recent performance. Overall, last year fiction sales were down on the year as a whole, with the five top fiction titles of 2004 selling 21% fewer units than in 2003. Fortunately non-fiction came through strongly, with the top five sellers achieving 52% more books sold than in the previous year, amongst them Bill Clinton’s My Life and The Gourmet Cookbook.

The UK book trade seems generally more upbeat than the US one. The wonderful effects of the Richard and Judy book club on stimulating book sales are not something the trade has yet started to take for granted. Although there is anxiety about book reading, David Roche of Waterstone’s was able to say of the show: ‘I think this is the beginning of a journey where reading is something that we want to do again.’

In the US however there is serious anxiety about long-term trends on book reading. The US National Endowment for the Arts (News Review ) reported last year that ‘for the first time in modern history, less than half the adult population now reads literature.’ Not a very cheery thought for the New Year.