Tuesday, March 3, 2009

March Column

(From Heart of the Bay, the newsletter of the San Francisco chapter of Romance Writers of America)

As my fellow board members have do doubt figured out by now (and with ample dismay, I imagine) I am not a details person. Minutiae escapes me, particularly numbers. I can handle simple things like the date, how many children I have, how many of those darling little powdered-sugar donuts come in a pack of Hostess Gems (five) – but start talking percentages and volume and statistics and we’ve got problems.

Enter eagle-eyed chapter member Josie Brown who occasionally separates out the important stuff from the chaff and sends it along. Josie recently forwarded some figures on 2008 book sales. I mentioned last month that the news was not all as dire as we thought. This new information refines the data a little:

December sales were up nearly 10% over last year.

What does that tell us? It’s evidence of a notion many of us suspected – that recession-burdened shoppers will continue to buy books. Whether as a gift item or – we can presume – as inexpensive entertainment, the book provides good value.

The children’s category numbers rocketed up.

This is not just the Twilight effect, as some suggest. Twilight followed another successful franchise whose name hardly needs mentioning. Both middle grade and young adult audiences appear hungry for new offerings. And many authors in our chapter are stepping up to meet that demand.

Hardcover sales for adult fiction were down 13% over the year.

People are buying fewer hardcovers. This is reported on blogs, in Romantic Times, in casual gatherings of readers. Heck, I’m buying fewer hardcovers. And the industry will continue to adjust its hardcover/trade/mass market and electronic book numbers as it evaluates demand. However, it’s nowhere near time to declare the format dead yet.

Which is a nice segue into my final thought for this month. It may be time to declare the print book review, if not dead, at least ailing. Column inches have been cut or eliminated in many major newspapers. Now, since lots of newspapers have been unfriendly to romance in the past, there may be some sweet irony in the fact that reviewing is finding a new and vibrant home on the Internet, and romance largely led the way.

Read more commentary on the subject of print reviews moving to the web in this article by Jacob Silverman of the Virginia Quarterly review.

Arts and Letters Daily serves as an aggregate of the latest online reviews– and it’s marvelously democratic. Try it – more fun than tmz.com!

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