Market Focus: Tough Sell for Reference Books
“Don’t forget [that] our products overseas are still priced in dollars,” Daly says, noting that the dollar has been declining against most major foreign currencies. “Overseas purchasers are buying at a discount. That is where growth has been in the last year.”
The strongest areas of growth internationally are humanities, general science and business, Daly says.
E-reference products also often do well internationally, he says. “We are seeing more and more demand to provide e-book versions of our products,” he says.
Domestically, there is pressure on book budgets, Daly says, as states like New Jersey, Florida and California put pressure on state-supported academic institutions and libraries. “I think we’re going to see slowness in the U.S.,” Daly says.
Other weak areas across the country in the reference book market are in primary schools and public libraries. “They are not purchasing core collections as often,” Daly says, noting that many small college libraries are also facing funding constraints.
“Short-term, the biggest issue is the funding issue,” Daly says.
Publishers continue to watch the reference book market shrink, says Michael Norris, senior analyst at Simba Information in Stamford, Conn.
The reference book market performs quite differently than the other trade categories that Norris covers for the market research firm. He says reading a novel or nonfiction book requires a lot of engagement and time from readers.
“A reference book has fewer demands on readers,” Norris says. In the past, most people kept dictionaries, an atlas and a set of encyclopedias in the home to look up bits of information a couple of times a year. “Now, you can go onto the Internet and pull a little piece of information that you need without having to fork over money,” he says.
Instead of dictionaries, atlases and encyclopedias, the market favors reference books like “Guinness World Records 2008” by Guinness and “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” by Yankee Publishing Inc.