Economy 101 and Your Book Sales

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Mar 04 2008

A client recently alerted me to a discussion she’s been having with other authors about the current economy and the looming $4 a gallon gas prices. She was interested in my take on how the economy would affect book sales, and what my readers thought in general and more specifically how it might effect their spending.

My answer is pretty straightforward. The higher prices are for gas, eggs, milk, and other necessities, the less we’re all going to have to spend on entertainment and, let’s face it, books are entertainment. She did ask me specifically if I thought that since people might have less money to spend on expensive luxuries like vacations would they possibly spend more on books and movies—choosing to stay home and have mini-vacations rather than actually travel. My thoughts are no. Well, some might, but overall no. If people have less money they have less money, and while some may choose to spend what disposable income they have on books, many others will choose movies or trips to the beach. I also think that for many, many people books are part of the vacation expense. They go to the beach and spend $25 on books to entertain them while they’re there. If the beach trip is out, it’s likely the books are too.

What is also interesting to point out is that during a time like this, a major financial shift in our country, you are also going to see the books that hit bestseller lists change. Obviously we’re not going to see any new books soon on how to make money in real estate or how to win in a thriving stock market. Instead we’re going to see more books on how to thrive in a struggling economy and how to live frugally. And often you’ll even see a shift in fiction. I can’t predict as easily where that shift might come, but we’ll see it.

But what about you? What do you predict for your own book sales or book sales in general in this struggling economy, and how might it affect—or has it already affected—your own spending? Are you still driving to the bookstore to browse and pick up books, or are you trying to save gas by ordering online? Has your book budget shrunk or is it still holding on—or even increasing—since your vacation budget is nil?


48 responses to “Economy 101 and Your Book Sales”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I don’t have a vacation budget, and as a writer my excess funds are actually (already) spent at bookstores so I don’t think less money will make that big of a difference.

    I just finished reading Scott Smith’s THE RUINS, and in a few months when it hits the movie theaters, I plan on going and getting popcorn.

    There’s my vacation.

    Seeing four American tourists and their German friend on a lazy Mexcian vacation venture out to find the German’s brother only to be slowly killed off when they get to their Mayan archeological site destination.

    The book was a vacation for my mind and I hope the movie will be a vacation for my eyes.

    As the economy flip-flops I would think more people would read as an escape from their everyday stresses. If not from bookstores at lesast from the library.

  2. Avatar Chessie says:

    If there is a book out there I really know I want, I’m going to get it. A seven dollar book costs a lot less than a trip to the movie theater and lasts a lot longer. Well, eight hours anyway instead of two.

    I’ll buy new books from my favorite authors, but it is the new authors I probably won’t pick up. This has been the case for me for a little while because of time constraints anyway.

    I think it is going to be a lot harder for new authors emerging right now. Buzz will be everything.

    I’m also worried. I think it will be harder to sell my first book right now, simply because of the market.

    I know I have no control over that. I’ve written the best damn book I could. It’s a book I would want to read. It has what I’ve been longing for and missing in my favorite subgenre of romance. I absolutely believe in it, and I’ll fight for it.

    That’s all I can do right now. But I guess that’s why I like romance. There’s always hope.

  3. Avatar Kristin says:

    Gas prices have actually stayed around the same price for almost a year now. If people were buying books 6 months ago, it’s not that gas prices that affect their buying habits. At least, I don’t think so.

    And, overall, the rise in the cost of gasoline only makes your trip to the mall only slightly more expensive overall.

    What I think the problem is are people’s perceptions of the economy. They believe it is bad, even if their own situation has not changed, and so they change their buying habits based on a feeling.

    I think once the Presidential election is over, there will be a shift in people’s thinking. No matter what is going on economically, there will be a positive change to everything…because a change in leadership breathes new life into things. So this time next year, I think we will be talking about how great things are.

  4. Avatar R.J. Keller says:

    Books are my vacation.

    I live in a rural area, with the closest ‘city’ a 45 minute drive…over half a tank of gas. As much as I love supporting local businesses, online shopping is my salvation, especially with free shipping on orders over $25.

    Fiction trends are hard to predict, but remember that Gone With The Wind–a novel about a woman’s survival through difficult times–was just what the public was craving during the Great Depression. Perhaps that’s what people are yearning for now.

  5. Avatar Just_Me says:

    Even with rising prices I’d rather go buy a book than hit the movies. I read about five books a week, usually sci-fi or fantasy in trade paperback. I’d rather skip snack food and ice cream in the freezer than cut off my book supply.

    For me reading is both educational, since I pick apart published author’s work to get ideas on how to properly write my own books, and it’s relaxing. I read fiction for the escapisim facotr. I like daydreaming about being on a space ship or fighting dragons, books are the only mode of entertainment that let me be in the book rather than a fourth-wall viewer of the action like movies or TV.

    As for the shift in fiction themes. Recessions are always a good time for the poor-boy-that-makes-good type of books. People feel like the underdog and will happily root for the underdog hero in the way they won’t for the elite heroes that seem to be stocking shelves at the moment.

    I could be wrong but that’s my prediction. More protagonists coming from poor backgrounds.

  6. Oddly enough, I actually spend more on books when I’m under a tight budget. I’m sure it’s not a financial plan Suze Orman would endorse, but pinching pennies is stressful. When I’m stressed, all I do is write and read (and eat copious amounts of chocolate). It’s my escapism.

  7. I buy books as gifts. I also buy books for myself when they come out in paperback. I also check out 10-12 books and DVD’s and CD’s at a time from the library.

    What I don’t spend money on anymore? CD’s and DVD rentals. I buy songs from i-Tunes very rarely.

  8. Avatar Shaun Carney says:

    I buy almost every book from Amazon because of the prices, free shipping ($25 or more) and no tax, except when Borders sends me a nice discount coupon. Those coupons, however, are only for one book or item. I may pick up that book when I’m near Borders, but I won’t make a special trip. That’s good for MY economy, saves gas, and takes a few carbon molecules out of the air.

    As for vacations, the trip to Ireland I was planning for the family for next year looks less and less likely. The value of the dollar is making everything over there more and more expensive, but makes everything here in the U.S. cheaper for European tourists to visit America. That’s good for hotels and souvenir shops here, I suppose, but bad for Americans traveling abroad.


  9. Avatar spyscribbler says:

    Well, personally, I’ve cut out cable and am listening to audiobooks from the library. (I’m enjoying it so much, I can’t believe I ever sat and watched TV!)

    And, sadly, my book-buying budget has decreased to zero a month, at least for the next few months. I feel horribly guilty, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

    In my defense, I’ve probably spent the equivalent of a down payment on a house on books so far. And I probably will again.

    Just not this year.

  10. Avatar Sarahlynn says:

    My book-buying habits haven’t changed with the struggling economy, but my budget allows some wiggle room for that, even with some increase in fixed spending. (Besides, with Amazon Prime two-day free shipping and one-click ordering, it’s harder for me to not buy a book than to buy it!)

    I think that there are lots of readers out there who enjoy escaping into fiction when things are tough at home or work.

    Here’s hoping!

  11. Avatar Anonymous says:

    The most avid readers I know get their books from the library.

  12. Avatar Vivi Anna says:

    I will always spend my disposable income on books. They are an expense I budget in every month. And I will always continue to buy new authors. I love discovering new voices that can transcend me for a while, who’s name I can add to my auto-buy list. I’m excited for this month because I have 3 new authors on my list to buy. I can’t wait.

  13. Overall, I stopped buying books quite some time ago. Mostly due to declining quality – I was deceived by too many over-touted new releases and false, agenda based rave reviews written by writers in the same genre.

    I have a lot of pets, and that means a lot of expense regardless of the economy, so less money for books.

    Very few books are keepers, worth reading more than once, and those tend to be the classics – therefore those are the books I tend to buy. As far as new books go, it’s strictly library rental for me, regardless of the economy, or even if I won the lottery – bad books aren’t worth buying, reading all the way through or keeping.

    If I do have a book released it wouldn’t be tll 2010 – perhaps the economy will be better by then. I do not envy new writers with new releases out this year.

  14. Avatar Kimber An says:

    Readers need books like fish need water. They’ll always spend the money because good stories are something they *need.*

    Being low on cash means these readers will use the library and used bookstores more often. It also means they’ll spend more time researching New Releases before buying new. They’ll also get a lot more angry if they buy a New Release believing it’s one thing because of how it’s marketed only to find out it’s something else after they’ve spent their hard-earned money. The more ticked off they are about that, the more likely they’ll never buy that author’s novels again and they’ll tell their friends not to buy either.

    What it boils down to is everyone in the publishing industry will simply have to work harder to put out a better product.

    And that’s a good thing – right?

  15. Avatar Katie says:

    I don’t think that the economy will affect books sales in a massive way, simply because books aren’t a very expensive thing, and most of us who buy them would rather give up a a new clothing item than a book we want.

    But I do think it will affect us some. With an author we’re new to, I think we’re more likely to check the author out through the library, a used bookstore, or one of the online bookswap sites, and save our new purchase money for tried-and-true authors.

  16. Avatar Chumplet says:

    At the moment my book, vacation and existing budget is rather slim. I rely on the generosity of friends and family to obtain books.

    Works pretty good when you make friends with writers! Of course, I’ve given away a few copies of my own book, too.

    A great way to escape from the world is to read a good book. Much cheaper than a cruise.

  17. Avatar Marie Force says:

    Is it bad to say I’d buy my books before groceries? :–)) Just kidding, I do feed my kids AND my need to read. In these scary, uncertain times, I hope there will be even more of a need to escape into fictional worlds with a guaranteed happy ending. Romance writers and our books might just be the cure for an ailing society!

  18. Avatar kelley says:

    I don’t think it’s just financial books that do well in a downturn. Comedy–it always does well in tough times. People want to escape, be entertained, and laugh. The book market will adjust. I’d bet my money on anything escapist, light, or funny, esp in paperback.

  19. Avatar Shannon says:

    I think people who are being more attentive to money they’d normally spend on books are leaning toward the E-book market. E-books do tend to be more affordable and can be downloaded at home.

    There’s always book swapping communities like Who doesn’t love free books? I know I’m a junkie here.

    My vacation is actually coming up next week. I bought a book at Target for the trip, another from Amazon, and picked up a few freebies from the bookmooch site.

    Overall, I don’t think book sales will take a huge hit. Buyers might skip the tall latte while they are perusing the stacks. They might not buy as many movie tickets at the box office. But there are so many books out there these days, bookclubs, bookswaps, bargain books, etc. that I think what we read might change. Our means of getting books might change, but that’s about it.

  20. Avatar Jules says:

    I think that if you love to read for whatever reason….escapism, pleasure, information….you will do so because it’s something you NEED to do. Myself, I relax every evening with a good book…have doen so since I was a young girl, reading Nancy Drew under the covers with a flashlight…if it’s an important part of your life, I don’t see peeps refusing to buy books

  21. Avatar Laura says:

    The Great Depression saw the biggest boom in escapist entertainment in American history.

  22. Avatar Angie Fox says:

    Hmm…I’m so not the norm when it comes to book buying. I remember getting in trouble for it in college. I didn’t buy my boyfriend a party favor for our fall formal because I’d discovered John Jakes’s Kent Family Chronicals and spent my very limited funds on the last three books in the series. I’ll never forget that because the date was very mad. Anyhow, it was worth it. I loved those books. So my habits won’t change.

    And I do have a book coming out this summer, but it is a light, fun read so I hope it eeks its way on to people’s reading lists. Maybe I should take a tropical vacation so I can walk around the beach and hand out free copies. Anything for the readers, you know?

  23. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I just made an Amazon book order for several fiction books online.

  24. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    Ditto on the buying books by new authors. I’ll stick to my old faves and maybe try a new one via a used book store. I’ve been burned too many times by books I didn’t like and ended up shelving them halfway through. Such a waste.

  25. Avatar Chessie says:

    Well, I’m going to add an asterisk to my original comment. I picked up Elizabeth Hoyt a couple of months ago entirely because I had heard so much buzz about her books. I really liked the Leopard Prince, especially. She’s now an author I’d buy more books from.

    New authors aren’t completely out of question for me, but I have to have heard a lot of good things about them before I’ll pick their books up. I’m not just going to randomly pick something new off the shelf.

    So I guess for me strictly as a reader, your promotion efforts have to win me over, because my whims just aren’t going to do it.

    Good buzz will sell me a book.

  26. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    Oh, I also want to add that joining book groups and writing related groups where you can find honest recommendations on books to read can really cut down on the “bought it, hate it” scenarios.

    About 80% of what I read is in the paranormal genre (probably more like 90% now), so I started a yahoogroup in 2002 for readers and writers of paranormal mystery (my personal favorite). It’s grown to close to 400 members now. We trust each other’s judgment when it comes to books, and people will offer up their reading lists and review their favorites. I’ve found some of my favorite authors thanks to this group. And lucky me, half of them are members!

    It’s so fun to read posts from authors like C.E. Murphy, Robin Owens, Jeanne Stein, and many others. Jenna Black just joined yesterday.

  27. Avatar Tiffany says:

    Books are like air… I need them. And like some have said, if I’m doing the cash crunch, I cut other things out (that vending choco-bar) rather than see my book list dwindle.

    I don’t buy new authors in ever genre. But when I see a new paranormal book on the shelf if the premise sounds good I buy it. But para is the only genre I do this for.

  28. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    Doesn’t seem to affect me too much personally. Still, I think the economy is affecting a lot of people that way–or they think it will, so it does, whether the economy is affecting them negatively or not (which is how you get a recession, but that’s enough about economic psychology for one day).

    As to what people read, I wonder. Will escapism be the next big thing? Or will nonfiction that offers solutions?

  29. Avatar Heidi says:

    My uncle used to say, if you have only a little money and you have to make a choice between eating that day or buying a book, buy the book. If you buy the meal, you’ll be hungry again in a few hours. If you buy the book, it stays with you forever.

    Maybe not a great survival plan, but given the choice between grabbing a coffee and bagel or a book, the book always wins.

    That said, if I’m not sure I’m going to like a book, I will look for it in the library first.

  30. Avatar Anonymous says:

    The GREEN approach is to buy used books. No trees get cut down because of any demand originating with me and I get a cheaper price. Not to mention avoiding having to pay all those annoying royalties – however indirectly disbursed – to the character whose name appears on the cover.

    I am sure if you took a survey of agents and editors you would find this very same sentiment positively abounds among their ranks.

    Now off to Half Price Books.

  31. Avatar Shirley w says:

    This is an interesting question and one that’s occupying everyone from all around the world it seems.

    Here in New Zealand our petrol prices have shot through the $1.75 a litre which equates to approx $7.85 (NZ) per gallon.

    There has been a big move to public transport and a lot of luxury spending has gone by the board. And we certainly consider petrol cost before we go anywhere.

    We own an antique and second hand store and we were really worried but while we still have to work hard for sales people still manage to buy what they want and new book sales are on the increase instead of decline here.

    We still get a good influx of overseas tourists with Americans, Canadians and Brtitish by far the most common to stop by.

    From our perspective (and this is not scientific)a downturn in tourists here is more noticeable from Asia and Continental Europe. Although overall tourist numbers coming to our fair country has reached an all time high.

    So maybe they’re not stopping by our store and buying.

    I think this has more to do with airlines and their stringent weight controls on luggage than people not spending on holidays.

  32. Avatar Diana says:

    I am a library assistant in a town whose largest employer just laid off almost 10% of the city. We’ve noticed a large increase in the number of library cards being issued, if for no other reason than the fact patrons can check out DVDs for free. Circulation is up in some of the print collections, too.

    My gut feeling is that while, at least in the short run, book sales might be down, patrons are much more likely to try new authors if they can check their books out for free. This could result in a stronger readership for writers whose names otherwise disappear on the shelves behind the bestsellers.

    As for my own buying habits, I try to check out what I can from the library (ha! by the wheelbarrow-full), buy most books in paperback, but I have a handful of authors for whom I’m willing to skip a few lunches in order to buy their work in hardcover.

  33. Avatar Shirley W says:

    I’ll add an interesting postcript to my comment.

    As a child from a very poor farming family, books were a long way down the chain.

    All during primary school(yr1-8) we didn’t even have the Country Library service until I reached the equivalent of year5. And I was the only child to read every book issued twice before they changed the books every six months.

    I was so hungry for reading material that I devised a homework ring. One page of long division got me to read Black Beauty and Tom Sawyer.

    This worked well until I made the same mistake in everyone’s homework!!!

    Ah well it was good while it lasted. When I went to College I encountered my first library. I thought I was in heaven!

    Spoiled for choice and being a very methodical child I started at the authors beginning with A’s and worked my way around the room. By the mid fourth form (yr 10) I reached the W’s.

    Personally I’d go without food before I went without books. I hate TV, movies etc. I buy heaps of new and great second hand books every month.

  34. No vacation budget here. One kid still in college and sucking all the money from our wallets.
    Dh travels for work and I go along sometimes. No house, no kids-I get lots of writing done on these trips. 🙂 Its my happy time.
    The perfect vacation is the beach and a book. Luckily, I live near the beach and a Barnes & Noble.
    So, I suppose this is a great time to write, “Living Cheap & Happy”?

    Seriously, if I have a non fic book, do I have to write it before I pitch? Does it have to be completed? Outlined? Half & Half?

  35. Not sure if I completely agree.
    For 25 years my husband’s firehouse hosted a firemen’s fair. Rides, games, food.
    When the ecomony was good, they didn’t have as many people. Why? We assumed because everyone was off taking real vacations.
    When the economy has been bad, the fair has done well. Why? We think because driving to one end of town or two towns over to plunk down some dollars for pizza, a beer and your kid to go on a bunch of rides was cheaper than a vacation.
    Just my two cents.

  36. Jessica, I agree with you. If buying books is in your vacation plans, then books will get purchased.

    I work for the state, and I help low-income people with state assistance; food stamps, medical, financial, child care. It’s hard to believe these people who don’t have any money will still buy cigarettes and beer. So it goes to show that not matter how much – or little – a person has, they are going to buy what’s most important to them.

    I will always have a book! I don’t take vacations. In fact, I’ve been married 23 years and I’ve only taken two. Last year when I went to RWA Nationals in Dallas was vacation #2. But reading a good book is how I like to get away. That’s a great vacation for me!


  37. My budget has been nil for a while. However, I treasure books and I will still buy them.

    I can buy a book that will entertain me for several evenings for about the price of eating out or going to a movie if I treat myself to the goodies. Then it goes in my collection to be enjoyed again, hopefully.

    I’m different from many people in some respects. When I hit a dead zone with my writing, I read. It invariably triggers something that solves a problem I’ve been wrestling with.

    “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”–Erasmus

    Words I treasure.

  38. Avatar WordVixen says:

    I think a poor economy would be a boon to good fiction. Anything that’s good for escapism should do well. I think, however, that hardcover sales will drop, while paperbacks will rise. Possibly e-books as well.

  39. Avatar bev says:

    I might not go to Europe because it’s too steep but I will buy books. Reading is wonderful cheap entertainment. Always has been, always will be.

  40. Avatar Anonymous says:

    No, I don’t cut back on books. I cut other things instead. I was just in Borders the other day and the new Sophie Kinsella was out, and even though it was in hardcover, I still bought it, because I had to read it, that day.

    I also picked up a hardcover from a brand new author, Julie Buxbaum, because I heard about it on a blog, and read the first few pages, and then had to read the book…had to.

    Tomorrow I’m buying a brand new author who just came out in paperback, CJ Lyons, LIFELINES. Heard about that one online, read an excerpt…have to read the rest.

    See a pattern here? If a book is good, strikes a chord somehow, it will find a reader, regardless of the economy. If anything, I might be reading more, now that I’m cutting back on going out to dinner often.

  41. The Wall Street Journal today published an article saying that Barnes and Noble is expecting to perform below Wall Street expectations.

    I’d say that’s a pretty big red flag for writers, publishers… and ultimately readers because we’ll have less options to choose from.

    But the country is struggling and it’s hard to continue spending when there’s no money in the cookie jar for an emergency fund.

    Personally, I am going to read everything on my TBR shelf *before* I go out and buy more books. This way, I’m not endlessly buying books when I have a shelf to read. So, I am pulling back but not stopping buying altogether.

    And I will be a bit more choosey but I love the process of discovering a new author and having them become my favorite.

  42. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Basic Economy:
    no money + reading habit = Public Library.

  43. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I get a lot of used paperbacks from Amazon for 1 cent (+ $3 shipping). I know the author isn’t getting paid for these, but at least they are gaining exposure they might not get otherwise.

    I wonder though, why is it legal to sell used books online but not used CDs or DVDs? Is it only because the discs are more easily copied? What if the book-rippers become commonplace?

  44. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I work for a counter cycle company — we do better whe the economy is in the crapper, most especially when real estate is in the crapper. I feel blessed beyond reason to have the job that I do. I don’t make lots of money, but I am single and childless with few expenses.

    If it wasn’t for the fact that I have ‘grounded’ myself from books until I finish my own, my reading habits would stay the same. Actually, probably increase since when times are bad I tend to cocoon myself in a cozy blanket of escapism.

  45. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I am always reading a book, even while writing one. I like to keep up with what’s out there in my genre, and of course I just like reading them, which is what got me into this writing thing in the first place. I even like to read the super-old classics of my genre, like Jules Verne and HG Wells. I just read them a little while each night before I fall alseep, or while I’m on the bus to work. Some good stuff out there. Nowadays I really like to read one and then go to Amazon and read the reviewers’ comments and see if I agree or not. And the results are sometimes surprising–I have read books I would have been proud to have written myself, only to read the Amazon reviews and find out that the public at large didn’t like it much. So the reading thing is really good for me as a writer, I would say. The second best thing I could do, besides actually write, is read other books in my genre.

  46. Avatar leesmiley says:

    I have an hour commute to work each way and gas is killing me. I haven’t sold my own novel yet, but I’m still buying the ones from my favorite authors. I am, however, less willing to go out on a limb and buy something I’m not sure about. Instead, I spend an unreasonable amount of time at the library, where I do most of my new author scouting.

  47. Avatar mardott says:

    We’ve already cut back on book-buying, but that means we now buy about 30 books a year instead of 50. It’s sort of like crack – we have great intentions of giving it up, but no willpower.We will always read. And we want to support authors, who have to be among the coolest people on the planet. So “books” remains a significant line item in our budget. As long as there’s money in the checking account…

  48. Avatar Macy O'Neal says:

    Books are one of those things that I just don’t do without. Maybe I’ll check more out from the library, but I doubt I’ll stop buying them all together. Books are my preferred entertainment. They are better than movies and TV, much cheaper than concerts, and satisfy me more than a new pair of shoes.