March 21, 2014

Books make great gifts, but don’t underestimate the greed of readers


Every year the chances of getting a book as a birthday present decreases

Every year the chances of getting a book as a birthday present decreases

Books make great gifts. Relatively cheap, easy to wrap, covering subjects to suit the most boring or interesting of recipients, they really are the gift that keeps on giving.

Or at least, that used to be the case. According to new statistics released by Nielsen Book, the number of people buying books as gifts has decreased substantially. In 2013 15% fewer books were bought as Christmas presents compared to the year before and, to make matters worse, books bought as birthday presents have decreased by 8% year-on-year.

The UK research director for Nielsen Book, Steve Bohme, shared some of his ideas about why he thinks this is happening. According to The Bookseller:

“Bohme said that the industry was in an environment where books were finding it increasingly difficult to compete with other entertainment and that the data suggested some consumers were dropping out of the book market altogether.”

Of course the rise of the e-reader doesn’t help. No one wants to give an e-book as a gift: you can’t inscribe it with an everlasting message, you can’t wrap it up all nice, and you can’t, well, actually give it to someone. It’s a problem that still hasn’t been solved in a satisfactory way. Incidentally, the research also showed that while 21% of readers discover books while browsing in a shop, only 10% discovered books online, indicating that finding books online is still not a comfortable past-time for readers.

But when reviewing the gift-buying figures, it’s also interesting to consider another theory, one surprisingly overlooked when one considers what we know is common to all book lovers: greed. Although the figure has dropped slightly, readers continue to buy books for themselves.  As The Bookseller reports:

“Readers are still buying more printed books for themselves rather than giving them as gifts, with that figure standing at 147m units in 2013, down from 162m in 2012.”

It seems that readers have become more selfish in their book consumption over the past year, and this must be tackled. Many of the problems of the publishing industry could be overcome if readers employed a “one for me, one for you” strategy in their book buying, purchasing one book for a friend every time they purchase one for themselves. Friendships would be stronger, book sales would be more robust and the reputation of the reading public as a bunch of selfish, self-serving, anti-social snobs would be salvaged forever.

Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.