Book sales rise as fewer borrow from libraries

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN has been reading its way through the recession. Book sales are higher than ever, according to a report which also found that despite cries of doom from theatre producers, West End theatre takings have continued to rise.

Paradoxically, the statistics contained in the new edition of Cultural Trends from the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) may not be entirely welcome to the book trade, which is conducting a campaign against the threat of VAT on books in the Budget.

For the fact is that higher prices combined with a recession have not deterred book buyers over the last three years. Indeed, one expected consequence of the recession - that consumers would buy fewer books and borrow more from libraries - has not happened. Library borrowings have fallen, with the PSI concluding that this is because libraries and bookshops now serve different markets.

The PSI report implies that pressure groups may have been overstating the threat to their services. Despite a vigorous campaign by the Libraries Association last year against local authority cuts, the PSI says that spending on the library service (at least until April last year, the latest available figures) has risen.

The report shows consumer spending on books rose from pounds 1.4bn in 1990-91 to pounds 1.5bn in 1991- 92. At current prices the retail value of the book market (including sales to institutions as well as consumers) is pounds 2.5bn. The report says: 'As yet, consumer expenditure on books has shown little sign of being affected by the recession . . . Meanwhile, although the use of public libraries for other purposes has increased, the number of books borrowed has been falling over the past decade.

'The number of loans recorded in 1991-92 was 563 million, some 8 per cent lower than in 1989-90 and 13 per cent lower than in 1982-83.'

Jeremy Eckstein, the PSI researcher who compiled the report, said: 'The book trade have a reputation for crying wolf. But the figures certainly don't give any support to that. With libraries, their expenditure still seems to be being maintained even though this time last year they were making a big fuss about local authority cutbacks. Between 1990-91 and 1991- 92, total expenditure went up from pounds 11,989 per 1,000 residents to pounds 12,270 per 1,000 residents.

'As for the decrease in library loans, the real issue is that if you wanted to read a book 10 years ago you went either to the local library or to WH Smith. There were very few independent bookshops. Now there's a mammoth choice. And the newer bookshops are so much more conducive to browsing than your local library.'

Tim Godfray, director of the Booksellers' Association, said: 'I think when the 1992-93 figures come out they may tell a different story. Last year was a tough one for booksellers.'

West End theatre audiences fell from 11.3 million in 1990 to 10.9 million in 1991 with virtually the same figure in 1992. But gross box office revenues grew from pounds 178m to pounds 187m in 1991 and pounds 194m in 1992.

Cultural Trends No 16, Policy Studies Institute, pounds 15.50. Tel: 0800 262260.

----------------------------------------------------------------- % Participation in selected home-based leisure activities ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1977 1980 1983 1986 1987 1990 Watching television 97 98 98 98 99 99 Listening to radio 87 88 87 86 88 89 Listening to records/tapes 62 64 63 67 73 76 Reading books 54 57 56 59 60 62 Gardening 42 43 44 43 46 48 DIY 35 37 36 39 43 43 Dressmaking/knitting 29 28 27 27 27 23 ------------------------------------------------------------------- Source: General Household Survey no. 21, 1990, Social Survey Division of Population Censuses and Surveys, 1992 -----------------------------------------------------------------