Market Focus: Tough Sell for Reference Books
Simba tracks best-sellers from The New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly to create a composite of the best-selling reference books. Norris notes that among the 2,100 books to hit the three lists in 2007, just 17 were reference books. “It is an indication of where reference books are in cultural consciousness,” he says.
The 17 reference titles on the lists in 2007 represent a 32-percent decline from the 25 titles listed in 2006, and a 39-percent drop from the five-year high of 28 in 2003.
“We’re holding steady from last year. We haven’t lost any ground,” says Sherin Pierce, publisher of “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” by the Dublin, N.H.-based Yankee.
Pierce attributes this to diverse distribution strategies. “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” can be found almost anywhere books and magazines are sold—chain and independent bookstores, club stores, online, discount chains and even home-and-garden outlets.
“When one area lags, another always picks up the sales slack,” Pierce says, adding that initial orders for the 2009 almanac are strong. “While there have been cutbacks from retailers, we’re seeing some significant order increases from others, offsetting any losses.”
But she admits that less access overall to bookstores is impacting the industry. With fewer and fewer independent stores and more chains consolidating, shelf space is becoming more limited, and a lot of retailers are pushing more of their business online.
Therefore, most growth in the reference market is on the Internet and via digital mediums. She says these avenues have helped Yankee reach new audiences.
“Every year there are wide-sweeping proclamations that print is dead, but I don’t think that will ever come to pass,” Pierce says. “Publishers will always find ways to evolve with trends and market conditions to survive. The trick to staying strong, even in tough economic times, is to welcome change and recognize the opportunities.”