Christmas too close to call for 'unpredictable' book trade

<p>Christmas 2009 is still impossible to call booksellers have said, describing the trading environment as &quot;unpredictable&quot; and &quot;volatile&quot; with sales of the bestselling titles well-down on last year and the market in general still below last year&#39;s levels.</p><p>Booksellers have reported a slight improvement in this week&#39;s trading, compared with last week. But the Christmas Number One - Dan Brown&#39;s <em>The Lost Symbol</em> - has sold just 58,468 copies in the week to Saturday 19th December, a fraction of last year&#39;s top title, J K Rowling&#39;s <em>The Tales of Beedle the Bard</em>. The Harry Potter spin off saw sales of 159,337 in the same week, and seven other titles all sold more than 60,000 copies that week, a feat achieved by none this year.<br /><br />Nielsen BookScan has reported a book spend of &pound;75.7m&mdash;up 9.6% week on week but down 8.2% on the same week last year. According to BookScan, &pound;1.69bn has been spent at UK book retailers thus far in 2009, down just 1.2% year on year. However, on a rolling 12-month basis, sales are down just 0.1% to &pound;1.75bn, meaning that with an extra day&#39;s trading this year the market could yet enter positive territory, with takings at UK book retailers this week expected to be much higher than the comparative week last year.</p><p>Independent bookshops spoken to by <em>The Bookseller</em> have reported mixed trading in the run-up to Christmas. Alan Jeffery, co-owner of Hoddestone, said it would be difficult to tell how the season had been &quot;until we close up on Christmas Eve&quot;, characterising trading as &quot;volatile&quot;. &quot;It got busier earlier in the month, but then last week it dropped off quite badly. It hasn&rsquo;t matched up to last year, even though the beginning of December was much busier,&quot; he said. &quot;It&rsquo;s picked up again this week, despite the weather, but there&rsquo;s still a way to go in terms of meeting last year&rsquo;s figures. It&rsquo;s so unpredictable at the moment, we just don&rsquo;t know where we will end up.&quot;</p><p>Jeffery said the shop had sold &ldquo;surprisingly large amounts of hardbacks&rdquo;, singling out<em> Wolf Hall</em> as particularly popular. Yesterday it was revealed that the title had become the bestselling Man Booker winner in the immediate aftermath of the prize victory since records began. He also cited classics, such as Peter Pan, and signed biographies &ndash; or those where the authors had come to the shop for an event &ndash; as strong sellers. Jack Dee, Simon King and Michael Palin had sold out at events, he said. &quot;I think our [celebrity sales] would be down if we hadn&rsquo;t held all these events,&quot; explained Jeffrey. &quot;Some of the others aren&rsquo;t shifting so fast.&quot;</p><p>Vivian Archer of London-based Newham Bookshop, said it felt &quot;flat&quot;. &quot;Figure-wise it compares to last year, but these last three days haven&rsquo;t been brilliant, and with the weather as it is, it&rsquo;s really not helping. We had to close early yesterday (21st December) just to get home, because the snow was so thick.&rdquo;<br /><br />She said classics &ndash; authors such as Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle, many of which have been or are due to be given the film treatment &ndash; were all selling well, and the Vintage range generally had been popular. Although biographies have been down across the board, Archer also said signed books had sold very well.<br /><br />&quot;We have sold Ant and Dec at full price, because the publishers have really supported us with signed copies,&quot; she said. &quot;It&rsquo;s not been our most important book, but it&rsquo;s been more than we expected.&quot; Signed sporting biographies, of stars such as Freddy Flintoff, Serena Williams, Andre Agassi and Michael Vaughn had also sold well, as had Tony Benn&#39;s recently-published Letters to my Grandchildren.<br /><br />John Bailey of Cumbria-based Derwent Bookshop said customers were &quot;holding out for bargains&quot;, and expected a rise in footfall as the deadline for deliveries from e-tailers nears.<br /><br />However, he also bemoaned the lack of strong titles, saying there were &quot;very weak follow-ups&quot;. Bailey said: &quot;There&#39;s too much Jeremy Clarkson, too much Top Gear stuff. There is a lack of innovation from publishers, they are just doing what supermarkets can sell lots of... It&#39;s a nightmare, a weak schedule from publishers having been lead by the nose by the supermarkets. They really need to get their acts together.&quot;</p><p>Keith How at Bakewell said: &quot;We haven&#39;t had the volume of people, but we are still busy despite four or five inches of snow . . . We are not looking at last year&#39;s figures and thinking we are going to meet that &ndash; in fact it will probably be busier after Christmas.&quot;</p><p><em>The Bookseller is running a Christmas trading survey for independent bookshops, if you would like to take part please email <a href="mailto:victoria.gallagher@bookseller.co.uk">victoria.gallagher@bookseller.co.uk</a>, or <a href="http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2D7XR5N" target="_blank" title="http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2D7XR5N">complete the brief survey here</a> or simply leave a comment below. Thanks very much, Happy Christmas from The Bookseller. </em></p>