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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Recession Busting Romance!

There's good news on the horizon for romance!
We're Recession Busting.


In a recession, what people want is a happy ending.
At a time when booksellers are struggling to lure readers, sales of romance novels are outstripping most other categories of books and giving some buoyancy to an otherwise sluggish market.

Harlequin Enterprises, the queen of the romance world, reported that fourth-quarter earnings were up 32 percent over the same period a year earlier, and Donna Hayes, Harlequin’s chief executive, said that sales in the first quarter of this year remained very strong. While sales of adult fiction overall were basically flat last year, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales, the romance category was up 7 percent after holding fairly steady for the previous four years.

At Barnes & Noble, the country’s largest book chain, where its chief financial officer, Joe Lombardi, recently warned that overall 2009 sales were likely to fall between 4 percent and 6 percent, sales of romance novels are up. And in the first three months of this year Nielsen Bookscan tracked a 2.4 percent rise in romance sales compared with a slight decline in sales of general adult fiction for the same period. Those figures may underestimate the demand for romance, since a significant portion of sales come from retailers like Wal-Mart that are not tracked by Bookscan.

Like the Depression-era readers who fueled blockbuster sales of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind,” today’s readers are looking for an escape from the grim realities of layoffs, foreclosures and shrinking 401(k) balances.

“Given the general dismay and gloominess,” said Jennifer Lampe, a lawyer in Des Moines and avid romance reader who runs a book blog under the pseudonym Jane Litte at, “reading something like a romance with a happy ending is really kind of a relief.”

Such escapist urges are also fueling sales of science fiction and fantasy, said Bob Wietrak, a vice president for merchandising at Barnes & Noble. Mr. Wietrak said sales of novels with vampires, shape shifters, werewolves and other paranormal creatures were “exploding,” whether they were found in the romance, fantasy or young-adult aisles, where Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series continues to dominate and inspire look-alike books like the House of Night teen novels by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast.

Romance readers are considered among the most loyal fans, sticking to a series or an author once they have grown attached to one. “It’s a very dedicated audience who doesn’t see it as a luxury as much as a necessity,” said Liate Stehlik, publisher of William Morrow and Avon, imprints of HarperCollins Publishers.

The romance genre may also be especially attractive to consumers during difficult economic times because so many of the books are sold in the mass-market format, smaller paperbacks often found on racks at the grocery store or in airport bookshops. These books sell for $7.99 or less, compared with $12 to $15 on larger trade paperbacks.

Romance novels also often appear in discount chains like Wal-Mart or Kmart, where shoppers make impulse buys.
If you’re going to Wal-Mart or Target anyway, you’re more likely to go and pick up a book,” said Ms. Hayes of Harlequin. “And a book is such incredible value in this environment.” Several retailers including Kmart, Wal-Mart and Kroger have been running three-for-$10 or two-for-$5 specials on Harlequin’s new titles.
Romance readers have always tended to buy in much higher volumes than people who read other genres like literary fiction. So even though some romance readers may be cutting back — Sue Grimshaw, the romance buyer at Borders, says people are buying four or five instead of five or six books a week — they are still buying more than readers of other book categories.
Some publishers have seen such strong sales on particular authors that they are willing to test hardcover editions for the first time, even in this market.

New American Library, a division of Penguin Group USA, has published six paperback-only versions of vampire romance novels in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J. R. Ward. Later this month it will publish Ms. Ward’s “Lover, Avenged” in hardcover, with a planned first printing of 125,000. (These numbers are generally known to be exaggerated, but they are a sign of the publisher’s confidence.)

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