Book sales reflect hard times in America
By Susan Lisovicz
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Like virtually every other retailer, booksellers have seen their business change dramatically since September 11. Americans did not shop for several days after the terrorist attacks. And since they've returned, their interest has turned to serious subjects.
When times are bad, Bible sales are good. But even at one Christian bookstore, a landmark in New York since 1883, there is no comparison to September 11 and its aftermath.
"When you look at the Gulf War, or even the previous recessions, we saw increases in our Bible sales of 10 and 20 percent, but this time we are seeing increases of 50 to 60 percent. So it is just a dramatic difference from anything we have experienced before," said Gary Gin, general manager of Christian Publications.
Jack Welch, the recently retired chairman of General Electric, had to postpone his book tour. "We canceled our trip for the first month. We started on the 11th actually, that day. So it ended right away," Welch said.
Even so, Welch's memoir tops the best-seller list. But a host of other newcomers on the list cover topics that weigh heavily on the minds of Americans. There are books about biological weapons, fire, war, compassion and the World Trade Center twin towers.
The media's complete focus on breaking news over the past month translates into lost marketing opportunities at a critical time.
"The real problem I think has been that the usual promotion, marketing and publicity plans for authors with big fall books have been thrown completely into disarray for several weeks," said John Baker, editor of Publishers Weekly.
But the same bookstores that were so hard hit on September 11 now see opportunities for the holiday season because of the deteriorating economy, and Americans' preference to stay home.
Borders, the number two bookseller in the United States, lost one of its own stores that was located in the World Trade Center. It has already warned that sales will be off in the third quarter as a result of the terrorist attacks. The company is capitalizing on its DVDs, patriotic music and current events section.
"What we provide customers, especially if they're tightening their belt, is a very affordable gift alternative. It's affordable. It's something people can specifically relate to," said Tami Heim, president of Borders.
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