sales up, not down....

with the world economy in the pits and everyone talking doom and gloom, it would be easy to believe the many dire predictions that abound for the book industry. Of course, history has repeatedly shown this not to be the case–that in fact, most people actually turn to books as an easy (and cheap) form of entertainment when money gets tight–but the naysayers would have you believing otherwise.  But today Publishers Lunch sends out confirmation that things are looking brighter for those of us in the book industry:

Focus on Romance Sales

First US News & World Report put “bodice rippers” at No. 3 on their list of 10 Recession Winners and now the NYT has a more detailed piece on continuing resilience in the market for romance novels and other genre fiction.

Parsing the numbers, though, is a little less clear than the article might indicate. Harlequin–which reported results over a month ago–is cited prominently though North American sales rose marginally in 2008, by $6.9 million CA. (As BookNet Canada has reported, overall book sales in Canada have continued to grow. And the sharp drop in the Canadian dollar last fall increased the value of the company’s sales for the fourth quarter by almost 13 percent.)

One of the more aggressive and inventive publishers in the e-book market, Harlequin says digital editions now comprise approximately 3.4 percent of sales. Company ceo Donna Hayes confirms to us that is a percentage of total worldwide sales, which were $473 million CA last year; if that rate maintains or grows during the year, that would equal roughly $16 million Canadian, or $12.85 million US. Parent Torstar forecasted “stable results” for 2009.

The Times reports that Nielsen Bookscan data shows a 2.4 percent rise in romance sales for the first quarter of this year in the outlets that they track, though their results do not include Wal-Mart nor do they cover many of the nontraditional outlets that carry mass-market books sold by the ID wholesalers. As previously reported, that market suffered serious supply disruption this year due to the bankruptcy of Anderson News and the legal and business battles involving Source Interlink.

The paper also cites a 7 percent increase in romance sales tracked by Nielsen Bookscan for 2008 compared to prior years, when sales had been relatively flat for four years. Reporter Motoko Rich underscores to us that this percentage gain is a baseline year-to-year gain that excludes the effect of Nielsen Bookscan having added Kroger (cited in the article as selling a lot of romance) and another nontraditional retailer to their dataset in 2008. (On a nonadjusted basis, the wider reporting for 2008 reflects romance sales 18 percent higher than 2007 because of the broader market coverage.)

Barnes & Noble vp of merchandising Bob Wietrak says “sales of novels with vampires, shape shifters, werewolves and other paranormal creatures were ‘exploding,’ whether they were found in the romance, fantasy or young-adult aisles.” But romance buyer for Borders Sue Grimshaw sees their customers “buying four or five instead of five or six books a week.”

So, if you’re writing romance, urban fantasy or young adult, take heart. Sales are increasing, not going down. Which means that publishers still need books and–more importantly–editors are still buying books. They may be slightly more picky these days, but the demand is there and there’s just as much chance of good books being bought in this clime as any other time. So if you’re writing, don’t let the gloomers get to you and keep submitting!