Thank you, Harry: Sales jump for children's books

NEW YORK - Another tale of magic from Harry Potter. Sales of children's books jumped more than 15 percent last year, with hardcover purchases topping $1 billion for the first time, according to a publishing study released Tuesday.

''Harry Potter has had an effect on children's books that goes far beyond the millions in sales of the series' titles,'' according to ''Book Industry Trends 2000,'' an annual report commissioned by the Book Industry Study Group.

''The craze made children's books sexy within the industry and, more important, to consumer media people, who couldn't get enough of stories about the boy wizard. ... Even children who had never read for pleasure devoured the books, possibly creating habits that will live on past the series.''

Total sales for children's books were projected to double between 1994 and 2004, to more than $2 billion. The publishing survey also credits such promotional tie-ins as ''Pokemon'' and ''Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace.''

Adult trade books could use a Harry Potter. Sales for adult books increased just 2.9 percent last year, with total purchases nearing $1.8 billion. Industry leaders had expected much better. The economy was strong and more and more baby boomers are reaching middle age, considered the peak time for reading. There was hype, too. Rosie O'Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg are among those who participated in the Association of American Publishers' ''Get Caught Reading'' campaign.

But according to Tuesday's report, consumers were turned off by high prices: ''There may be a limited number of people who will spend $25 on a book, no matter how hot the economy or how cool the celebrities promoting reading,'' senior editor Karen Jenkins wrote in the BP Report, an industry newsletter.

Adult sales are expected to rise 3.5 percent in 2000.

Mail-order books are having an especially bad time, with sales dropping 12.3 percent last year and 48 percent since 1989. The study blames this on the rise of superstores and the Internet, noting that ''older consumers who are comfortable doing business through the mail is giving way to a generation of readers more familiar with cyberspace than the post office.''

Overall, sales should keep going up over the next few years. The report sees expenditures reaching $38.4 billion in 2004, an increase of $8 billion from 1999. Besides children's books, a category expected to grow strongly is college titles, ''fueled by gains in traditional-age students and an increase in the number of older students going back to school.''

The Book Industry Study Group is a not-for-profit research organization.

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The Book Industry Study Group: http://www.bisg.org

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