Buy a book and you'll have a very, merry Christmas
Robert McCrum writing in The Observer, Sunday 21 December 2008
The only welcome news about these hard times will be that it's probably good for reading (as in staying quietly indoors with a book), while the consumer cuts back on more extravagant distractions. Books have always done well in crises. The First World War was literary as well as lovely; the Second turned out to be the making of Penguin.
So I'm betting that bookshops selling novels and poetry, not Nigella and Jamie, will do better than expected during credit-crunch Christmas. The publishers will moan like hell, but good books won't stop selling. To some people, this will seem doubly odd. On top of the recession, there's a widespread complaint that "books are so expensive these days".
Is that really true? About 50 years ago, in the bleak aftermath of the Second World War, George Orwell wrote a famous Tribune column, "Books v Cigarettes", in which, after conceding that "it is difficult to establish any relationship between the price of books and the value one gets out of them", he concluded that, compared to a good smoke, books were a bargain.
Since that's no longer a comparison that has much meaning in smoke-free Britain, how about books versus DVDs, CDs or a night out at the theatre ? For the sake of argument, let's say that paperbacks average £10 apiece and that new novels are £18.99 (though discounting makes these figures almost meaningless). Meanwhile, the average hardback is £25 and a lot less if you go to a second-hand bookshop.