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So what about the book business in 2009?

5 January 2009

No-one could call 2008 an easy year. As well as an unprecedented worldwide credit crisis it has ended with an abrupt slide into a severe global recession, which will affect every country in the world and all aspects of life.

Publishing will not be immune and already there are signs of cutbacks, particularly in US publishing, where one of the big bookselling chains also looks unsteady. Early hopes that books, traditionally thought to do well in a recession, would escape unscathed, have proved to be unfounded. At the time of writing it is not clear how the all-important Christmas selling season panned out for booksellers, but as we enter the New Year it doesn't look as if it saved the day.

The holiday fell in such a way that Christmas present buyers could postpone their purchasing to the very last moment - and they did. In the UK there was the appalling timing of Woolworths going down, taking in its wake the EUK distribution business, which supplies most of the big supermarkets, and also affecting the wholesaler Bertrams, the supplier of many independent bookshops.

Across the globe people are being forced to focus on basic essentials and for many these essentials do not include books. But we should all take heart from the fact that the international book trade rests very largely on the purchases of heavy book buyers -and for them books are a necessity. Even for lighter buyers, as has often been pointed out, books make good gifts, not too expensive but showing thought and discrimination.

There's no doubt though that publishers are going to be even more cautious than usual in 2009. American publishers have already started cutting staff and it's possible that publishers in other countries will follow. At the very best they will reduce their risks by taking on fewer books. This means that agents will struggle to sell new authors in particular, unless they are thought to be bestseller material. And that of course means that agents in their turn will be extremely careful about taking on new authors.

Before we come to an utterly depressing conclusion however we shouldn't forget that readers will still be buying books, and they may even devote more time to reading and other home pursuits as these are infinitely cheaper than going out. Reading sits well with the new austerity, being thought rather improving as well as inexpensive. Publishers still have to publish something and there will of course be an ongoing market for new books in bookshops everywhere.

It may however be a year when it makes more sense for writers to concentrate on improving their writing and getting it into good shape, rather than a scattergun approach to submitting it to an indifferent market. The Internet and the possibility of self-publishing also offer new ways for writers to reach their audience which have never existed in previous recessions. So self-help is the order of the day and writers can make the most of the opportunities that offer themselves to draft and redraft their work; research and inform themselves online; join online writing communities; promote their writing on the web; and to try out the new opportunities that self-publishing and selling online present.

A happy New Year to all our visitors and we hope you will find it a good year for developing your writing!