Buyers of books give romance a miss

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THE average book buyer purchased 19 books last year - preferring and preferred puzzles to romance, writes Maggie Brown., the highst figure recorded,

According to the latest consumer a survey by Book Marketing, the central reference organisation body for publishers and book shops, buyers are turning away from romantic fiction, once the most popular genre, and buying cookery and reference books such as dictionaries instead.

Puzzle and quiz books are now the most popular. The share of the market taken by fiction has fallen from around about 40 per cent of the total five years ago to 30 per cent.

This marked The increase in book buying follows an abrupt fall during 1992, when buyers bought less than 17 books, compared with 18 books per year in the from 1989 to 1991. period. Details of the recovery and current state of the market were provided yesterday at the Books and the Consumer annual conference held in London.

The survey says shows that fiction has suffered a substantial drop, with all the major categories: romantic and historical novels; crime/thrillers; detective stories; war/adventure; science fiction/fantasy; and 'the rather amorphous twentieth 20th-century novel all seeing relative sales drops'.

On the other hand, 'puzzle and quiz books, dictionaries and similar reference books of all sorts, and even cookery books have all gained'. The number of people buying books for themselves has also risen steadily, from 59 per cent in 1989, the year the survey started, to 71 per cent. currently.

The increased personal buying books, rather than buying books as presents, included both covered paperbacks and hardbacks. The survey suggests that the fact that restraint in book price increases were restrained during 1993 helped to boost sales.

It says that one key change in the past five years is the slow but steady growth in the number of people either reading, watching or listening to programmes about books. In 1989, 54 per cent said they engaged in some of these activities, growing to 60 per cent by last year.

Book reviews (40 per cent) lead led the way, followed by press articles (32 per cent), TV television programmes (28 per cent) and radio programmes (16 per cent).

Richard Charkin, chief executive of Reed Consumer Books, which is outside of the Net Book Agreement, told the conference that books are were still perceived as expensive; by British people: only 20 per cent think thought paperbacks are were very good value, and while only 13 per cent think thought hardbacks are were very good value. This was despite the fact that sime prices have fallen: he said that two years ago most hardback novels were published at pounds 14.99; now the spread is greater with many sold at pounds 9.99.

He also attacked the book trade's failure to attract down-market customers. into book shops. 'The male public school-Oxbridge trade establishment has created an exclusive zone for not very efficient publishing and bookselling. Perhaps that is why we are quite effective at reaching the high-brow market, but almost useless at reaching the wider audience.' through normal retail channels'.