A low-cost escape from recession? Book me in
Peter Vincent, April 18, 2009, Sydney Morning Herald
MARK TWAIN once said books were for people who wished they were somewhere else - and the global downturn is proving him right. As the recession bites and retail spending flags - dropping 2 per cent in February - it seems we are turning to books as an alternative to costlier ways of entertaining ourselves.
New book sales remain strong (largely thanks to Stephenie Meyer, the author of the blockbuster Twilight series). Between January and last month, they were up 7 per cent on the first quarter of last year, Nielsen BookScan Australia says.
Malcolm Neill, the chief executive of the Australian Booksellers Association, said books are "relatively immune" during a short downturn, although sales did tail off in a sustained downturn.
"Our experience of the last couple of recessions is that it takes a while for expenditure on books to be severely affected. There is an initial insulation, so that when people are tightening their belts books get whacked less," Mr Neill said.
While sales of new books eventually fell away, not so second-hand books, said Bob Gould, the owner of the cavernous Gould's Book Arcade in Newtown, who has sold pre-loved books for 40 years.
His shop has experienced a 10 per cent jump in business since February, but Mr Gould does not expect trade to go backwards. "Second hand books are counter-cyclical and always have been," he said.
"People have to read - and they read in bed or in the bath; they want a book. Second-hand books are very resilient."
Paul Berkelouw, the co-owner of the Berkelouw chain, which sells new and second-hand titles in Paddington, Leichhardt and Berrima, said his sales were up about 10 per cent for the last quarter.
Sales of low-priced new books (sets of six paperbacks for $20) were also doing well at his wholesale store in World Square.
"Expensive books about art and architecture are not doing well; people are looking for escapist stuff at the moment," Mr Berkelouw said.
Libraries are also noticing an increase in custom.
North Sydney Council's Stanton Library has had a 14 per cent jump in visitors in the past year and a parallel increase in new memberships and loans.
The number of visitors to the City of Sydney's seven libraries in the first three months of this year (94,325) was up 12 per cent on the first quarter of last year, although a council spokesman said this was partly due to a membership promotion and free Wi-Fi internet connection.
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