Why I’m Cautiously Optimistic About 2006

I’ve noticed an unusual amount of good news in the air over the past week. Frankly, given the impact of Katrina earlier this fall, the subsequent rise in fuel prices, and the impact on consumer confidence, this is very positive.

Consider the following four items:

First, Consumer confidence is the highest it has been since just prior to Katrina. It rose to 103.6 in December, up from 98.3 in November. It’s still not as high as it was in August (105.5), but it is definitely improving.

Second, holiday retail spending rose 8.7%. This was for the period that began on the Friday after Thanksgiving and ended at the end of the day on Christmas Eve, December 24 compared to the same period last year.

Third, based on our own internal analysis of our BookScan data (the Nielsen subscription service that measures point-of-sales movement through general market retailers), we sold 202,274 units for the week ending December 26. Last year, we sold 140,513 units for the same period. That’s a 44% increase. This is no doubt related to the performance of newly-released major titles, but I think it also reflects improving conditions at retail.

Fourth, according to the STATS report (the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association subscription service that measures point-of-sales movement through Christian specialty retailers) for the week ending December 26, we had 14 of the top 50 best-selling products. Zondervan, our nearest competitor had 7. (HarperCollins, Zondervan’s parent company, had 8 titles, but these were all C.S. Lewis or Chronicles of Narnia related titles. They generally have no titles in the top 50, so I see this as a temporary anomaly related to the current popularity of the movie.) Best of all, our 14 titles were from 10 different authors. Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge is still the best-selling title at Christian retail, now outselling the Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren by 14%.

These facts make me cautiously optimistic as I look toward 2006. I say “cautiously” because all the data is not yet in, and I’m sure the analysts and the economists will soon produce data on the other side of the ledger. (Reminds me of the story about Harry Truman. Frustrated that his economists were all saying, “On the one hand … but on the other hand,” he supposedly said, “Give me a one-handed economist!”) Nevertheless, I am encouraged by what I see and hope this bodes well for the new year.

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