Well, there it was in black and white (actually, purple and white) accompanied by shots of suitably inclement weather: UK consumers bought fewer books in 2008 than in 2007 - some 330m compared to 341.9m. They also spent 6% less on books, down from £2469m to £2313m. The decrease can only partly be explained by the Harry Potter effect, since spending was also down 3% in 2008, if JK Rowling's titles are excluded. Spending in 2008 was also 2% below that seen in 2006, whether the Potter titles are included or not.
Nobody expected to hear Book Marketing Limited's (BML) Research Director Steve Bohme (below) reveal anything different at today's Books & Consumers Annual Conference held at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, near the Cabinet War Rooms in Westminster. And as ever, he delivered it all with his customary dry wit, accompanied by slides of ever worsening British weather (one of the few UK growth industries at present).
Although volume purchases have grown since 2003, when 299.7m books were bought, this does not meant that more people are buing books. "On the contrary," Bohme noted, "the proportion of 12-79s buying books fell in each of the last three years, from over 61% in 2004 to 57% in 2008."
It remained for the other speakers to put forward suggestions as to how this decline can be reversed. Charlie King, Head of Creative Marketing at Little, Brown, believes the entire industry must stress the value for money that books represent, but noted: "When you look at publishers' advertisements you won't find this." Here the industry has already ridden into a problem. There is a joint Booksellers Association/Publishers Association initiative to come up with a generic marketing campaign for books. The slogan that was chosen has already been rejected by some retailers who were unhappy about the concentration on price. Yet here was a publisher at the conference arguing for just that. It will be interesting to see what middle ground is arrived at when the campaign is released in June.
Peter Crawshaw of Lovereading looked at emotions and the consumer. "It appears that the more choice and control you give a consumer in a media channel, the less emotionally attached they feel to that media. Book reading is a high use, high engagement activity, alongside watching TV and listening to the radio, while blogs [how dare he!!], podcasts, ebooks and audiobooks score low when it comes to use and engagement."
Meanwhile, there were numerous nods and chuckles of agreement when BML's Rachel Levin presented research which showed that some consumers ended up not buying any books in three-for-twos "because of being unable to find a third title and putting them all back".