Sunday, December 21, 2008

Good News for Books?

After reading one article after another on how the credit crunch could bring about the downfall of publishers (and the world in general), it's nice to see a positive take on the future of books in these economically challenged times.

On his Guardian Book Blog, Robert McCrum has the following to say about the value of books versus other, more expensive, forms of entertainment.

The only welcome news about these hard times will be that it's probably good for reading (as in staying quietly indoors with a book), while the consumer cuts back on more extravagant distractions. Books have always done well in crises. The First World War was literary as well as lovely; the Second turned out to be the making of Penguin.

So I'm betting that bookshops selling novels and poetry, not Nigella and Jamie, will do better than expected during credit-crunch Christmas. The publishers will moan like hell, but good books won't stop selling. To some people, this will seem doubly odd. On top of the recession, there's a widespread complaint that "books are so expensive these days".

Is that really true? About 50 years ago, in the bleak aftermath of the Second World War, George Orwell wrote a famous Tribune column, "Books v Cigarettes", in which, after conceding that "it is difficult to establish any relationship between the price of books and the value one gets out of them", he concluded that, compared to a good smoke, books were a bargain.

Since that's no longer a comparison that has much meaning in smoke-free Britain, how about books versus DVDs, CDs or a night out at the theatre ? For the sake of argument, let's say that paperbacks average £10 apiece and that new novels are £18.99 (though discounting makes these figures almost meaningless). Meanwhile, the average hardback is £25 and a lot less if you go to a second-hand bookshop.

Against a CD (maybe £14.99, assuming no cheap downloads), paperbacks do rather well. You might play the CD scores of times, but the paperback will become part of your collection. Even a favourite DVD probably has less replay value (how many times can you watch Some Like It Hot ?), but at £19.99 it's about the same as a hardback novel. Plus you probably know what you're getting when you buy it.

To read the rest, go here.


Scott Lackey said...

Absolutely true.

I'd also look more modern delivery of books, namely the Amazon Kindle.

Despite the $359 price here in the's been sold out for weeks.

Interest...and demand is there.

Thanks for the follow on Twitter.

Marsha said...

Hi Scott!

Thanks for the comment. Actually, most of what I hear about the Kindle has been from people in the States - hardly any commentary about it here in the UK (well, that I've read). Still, nice to see that it's doing so well, especically in these times.