Sales of J.K. Rowling”s best-selling “Harry Potter” series indicate something greater than the popularity of the young wizard, according to some experts and analysts. Despite the current recession, the “Harry Potter” books aren”t the only ones flying off bookshelves, leading some people to believe rising book sales are hints that reading is increasing in popularity.

Paul Wong
Jeffrey Pickell, owner of Kaleidoscope Books and Collectibles on State Street, reads in his store yesterday. He says that since Sept. 11, “sales have gone in a certain direction,” with more customers requesting the Koran and writings by Nostradamus.<br><b

Over the holiday season, both local and chain book stores reported higher-than-expected sales. In Ann Arbor, both Borders and Shaman Drum Bookshop saw holiday increases, with Shaman Drum reporting holiday sales up 5 to 10 percent from last year. Meanwhile other retail businesses, including Kmart and Jacobson”s, are either fearing or filing for bankruptcy.

During years of substantial growth, 5 to 10 percent isn”t considered anything remarkable. But with last year”s faltering economy, businesses said they would take all they could get.

“It isn”t a huge increase, but in light of all of our economic woes, any sign of growth is actually really good,” said Nancy Rohlen, the trade store manager of Shaman Drum.

Nobody can be sure why book store sales have remained steady so far in a wavering economy, and different people are pointing to different reasons.

Borders executives attributed their holiday success to big-name books that have stolen much of the entertainment world”s attention, as well as to successful marketing.

“Our successful holiday season resulted from record superstore traffic,” said Borders President and Chief Executive Officer Greg Josefowicz in a written statement. “We did particularly well in our core book category and in popular products such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings merchandise, as well as DVD.”

Others, such as book lover Sumari Mayor, said the high sales numbers weren”t merely a result of the gift-giving season.

“The holiday season is just an excuse to buy a gift for somebody,” said Mayor, who is visiting Ann Arbor from South Africa with her husband, a University fellow. She said she believes books have become more popular world-wide because “people”s value systems have changed.”

Ironically, Mayor said she thinks the struggling economy is at least partly responsible for the increase in book sales.

“It”s a whole economical experience,” she said, adding that Americans especially have a reason for wanting more bang for their buck after Sept. 11.

“When they buy gifts, they want something more tangible. They are looking to find more meaning in life when people spend money, they want to spend it on something worthwhile,” she said.

At Borders and Shaman Drum, book sales decreased immediately following Sept. 11 and didn”t start rising again until November.

“I (attribute) that to people paying more attention to the media. Newspapers and online sources took up a lot of their time,” Rohlen said. But now, she added, “people have turned to literature to get over what happened.”

Not everybody can come up with a reason for reading, and some new book enthusiasts said there wasn”t one.

LSA freshman Laura Kline said she never read in high school but now stops by area bookshops at least once a week. She said doesn”t know a precise reason for the change.

“On the way home from class, I”ll just stop in and stay here for awhile, reading,” she said, adding that there aren”t many bookstores or opportunities for reading in her hometown. “I just like coming here and reading. It”s relaxing.”

Some experts agree with Mayor. In its 2002 book report, the magazine “Pages” outlined some reasons for why book buying doesn”t decrease with the economy.

According to the report, “The business of books continues to be one in which American consumers revel, and reading continues to be a freedom we all share and enjoy.”

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