Breaking: Book Industry Hurt in 2008

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"You don't say!" Photo: istockphoto

Publishers were hardly shocked when the Association of American Publishers yesterday released some hard numbers (actually, rough estimates) of 2008 book sales, revealing they'd declined 2.8 percent. Maybe it was a little worse than the slight dip expected this time last year, but then no one quite anticipated that the world economy would take a drastic nose dive in September. An industry that sees 5 percent growth as a bubble is taking it in (gimpy) stride.

There is one puzzling blip in the report: The single biggest drop in sales was for audiobooks, down 21 percent from 2007. This, by the way, includes digital downloads. (The Kindle's new voice function, whereby a creepy Hawking-esque voice reads your favorite books to you, works under the assumption that Americans too lazy to focus their eyes on words would happily let you ladle them into their ears. That seems not to be true.) E-book sales were up almost 70 percent, but — this isn't surprising, either — the AAP estimates they still only account for half of a percent of total book sales.

In other downbeat news, all those Amazon deals and iPhone apps certainly aren't helping beleaguered Borders. The chain, frantically trying to scramble up out of near-bankruptcy, just announced almost $185 million in losses for 2008. But new CEO Ron Marshall is keeping his spirits up. “We've identified what needs to be done and we'll get it done,” he said — which, if true, is more than you can say for most CEOs. Hey, it beats selling newspapers.