Canada (Really!) Reads: Canadian Q1 Book Sales up 5% YoY, While US and UK Both in the Red

Our same-store survey of 665 retail locations shows Q1 sales up 6.5% in units, 5.0% in dollars. (release, coverage) The numbers don’t lie, but why? Decoupling is a discredited idea in this era of synchronous global economic slowdown, so we’re interested in your thoughts on why the Canadian market continues to see growth in the book industry while other, similar markets take unprecedented dives.

A few disorganized thoughts:

  • Canadian book sales do not seem to correlate to consumer confidence. While people are definitely cutting back on everything from cars to home electronics, books are performing more like moviesan entertainment haven from the storm. When we were first watching the numbers back at Christmas, we were unsure whether the drop in confidence in Oct-Dec would hit books, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case.
  • It’s stating the obvious, but book sales are much more likely to track to unemployment numbers. You don’t have a job, you’re probably not buying books. (But library use will be interesting to watch…) If Canadian jobless rates continue to climb, we’ll find out the hard way if this is true.
  • We’ve received a lot of questions about whether this lift is “all Stephenie Meyer?” That’s definitely a part of it, but all markets are heavy on Bella & co. right now, Canada probably no more so than the US or UK, and it isn’t enough to keep them in the black. Every season has a bestseller that draws significant sales (The Secret; The Shack; Eat, Pray, Love; HP; et al.) Meyer is statistically significant, to be sure, but isn’t “holding up the market” any more or less than Eckhart Tolle did last year.
  • Canada continues to see high “reading for pleasure” stats, but the data is a few years old. Trying to get comparable data for the US and UK is tricky. The most recent US NEA study also shows a rise in adult readership of books, so no clear answer there. In all cases, the methodologies and segmentation (reader vs. “heavy reader”, etc.) are difficult to line up. Are Canadian heavy readers more “committed” in the face of an economic downturn? It certainly seems so, but time will tell.

No clear answers so far, but we will keep digging. We’re very interested in your thoughts on this, so don’t hesitate to share.