Notes For Monday December 7, 2009

As the economy continues to tighten, I wandered around the Net for some information about books and hard times.

Presented here, without regard to accuracy, is what I found.

[A] lot of small companies — mine included — started in the teeth of a recession. It’s easier to start a business than look for a job at the start of a recession. People still buy things, but companies are reluctant to take on the cost of an employee when revenue prospects are uncertain.Posted by Susan Nov 11, 2008

Book League of America

The Book League of America, Inc. was a New York City mail-order book club established in 1930 by Lawrence Lamm. It was located at 100 Fifth Avenue, a 240,000 square foot office building that was built in 1906. The book club published a variety of volumes in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Approximately 5,000 subscribers received monthly fliers and could select from a variety of contemporary and world classic literature choices. There was no membership fee to join the plan. The subscription cost $16.68 and entitled the subscriber to twelve books each year.

“The famous Board of Editors selects for you 2 books each month: the best new book -AND- one of the greatest classics. The Book League of America supplies these 2 books each month at 1/3 of the usual cost!

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

People were wailing over Dan Brown going for half-off. These were going for 66% off!

How brands thrived during the Great Depression

To begin, not all was doom and gloom during the Great Depression. It was a time when those who knew what they were doing made great economic strides, and the very nature of the Depression was an economic boon for them. It was a time when several companies benefited from aggressive marketing while their rivals cut back. A good example of that would be Kellogg besting C.W. Post during that time. Consumers didn’t stop spending during the Depression; most just looked for better deals, and the companies providing those better deals came out stronger after the Depression ended. When spending picked up, consumer loyalty to those companies remained.


Because so many companies cut spending during the Great Depression era, advertising budgets were largely eliminated in many industries. Not only did spending decline, but some companies actually dropped out of public sight because of short-sighted decisions made about spending money to keep a high profile. Advertising cutbacks caused many customers to feel abandoned. They associated the brands that cut back on advertising with a lack of staying power. This not only drove customers to more aggressive competitors, but it also caused financial mistrust when it came to making additional investments in the no-longer-visible companies.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

Depression 2009: What would it look like?

[E]arly last month [October 2008], the English bookstore chain Waterstone’s reported a 200 percent increase in the sales of books on keeping chickens.

The Growing Influence of Non-traditional Book Sales Channels

In fact, books are the most popular product sold on the internet according to Nielsen Online which surveyed 26,312 people in 48 countries. It found that 41% of internet users had bought books online. In some countries the percentage was much higher – for example in Korea 58% of internet users had purchased books online. And in the U.S., 57.5-million had purchased books online. In all, the direct-to-consumer (Internet, book clubs, book fairs, catalog and other) channel accounted for 35% of book purchases.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

Great Myths of the Great Depression

One government study found that by 1933 some fifteen hundred colleges had gone belly-up, and book sales plummeted. Chicago’s library system did not purchase a single book in a year-long period.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

But then there’s this claim:

Dream Your Unemployment Troubles Away

More Than Anything — The 1930s Were the Hey Days of Reading

Despite the Depression, sales of books totaled $22 million, just in 1933. Americans were actually reading more, and going to libraries. Library circulation jumped forty percent, and over four million people became library patrons. Millions of new avid readers were created by the Depression. The reading list of the 1930s, more than escapism — also gave hope back to people.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

A Recipe for Escapism

The cookbook ought to be dead. Like the compact disc, it uses an inconvenient and relatively expensive physical medium to deliver content that can be found, free, on the Web. Beyond a couple of classics like “The Joy of Cooking” and Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything,” how many hardcover recipe collections do you need, anyway?


The Great Depression also saw a boom in cookbook sales, and as Jessamyn Neuhaus, author of “Manly Meals and Mom’s Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America,” notes, the popular titles back then didn’t necessarily emphasize economizing, either.

Doom and gloom, go zoom to the moon!

There are less people reading and buying books than ever before! Really? Considering the fact that in early Victorian Britain a third of the population was illiterate, a further third was only semi-literate, and the working classes couldn’t even afford to buy books, I find that very hard to believe.

Internet Success [update: link fixed]

It was only later that I learned despite the hype of online books sales only 10% of books sold today are sold online. Unless you’re a Stephen King or JK Rowling your book will have a hard time selling online.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

The Human Touch

Tough times. Selling anything? Good luck.

So I conducted a little experiment. What does it take to sell in today’s business climate?

I saved the best one for last. You must read that one.

3 Responses to Notes For Monday December 7, 2009

  1. […] Cane researches publishing in the Great Depression. See also Was 1935 “the worst time in history to be starting out as a writer”? […]

  2. Daniel says:

    The link in header “Internet Success” doesn’t work. What is your source?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: