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Bad housing market or good—according to the Commerce Department, figures for sales of new homes were worse in summer 2010 than they have been in 50 years, though September did bring some improvement—publishers continue to offer books on home improvement and decorating in large numbers, though at lower prices and with smaller print runs than in the past. PW spoke with four key players in the category to get their thoughts on the status of today's home improvement and decorating books.

Creative Homeowner: Publisher Tim Bakke and Senior Editor Kathie Robitz

The economy has affected every category in publishing, but the recent recession, fueled in large part by the collapse of the housing bubble, has had particular impact on the home improvement and decorating category.

Creative Homeowner senior editor Kathie Robitz says, "Home is more important than ever, as people are spending more time there. Because of the economy, people don't have a lot of disposable income, so they dine in more frequently and spend more leisure time at home rather than elsewhere. They are looking for ideas that are affordable, easy, and less centered on tasks and upkeep but make time at home more enjoyable. Easy care is also high on everyone's list. Homeowners are downsizing, as well. McMansions are out; smaller but better-organized space is in."

Helpful Tip
"Adults can make their own non-toxic wood sealer using five parts mineral oil to one part beeswax. Children should not attempt this on their own. Heat the mineral oil in a saucepan over low heat. Add the beeswax, being careful not to splash the oil, and allow it to melt. Caution: Keep the heat low and stir slowly. Beeswax is very flammable." Self-Sufficiency: A Complete Guide to Baking, Carpentry, Crafts, Organic Gardening, Preserving Your Harvest, Raising Animals, and More! edited by Abigail R. Gehring, Skyhorse, $24.95 (Nov.)


Publisher Tim Bakke reports, "Do-it-yourself home-improvement—or hammer-and-nail books—especially those involving basics like wiring, framing, drywall, decks, and plumbing, seem to be working best for us. One reason may be that homeowners are interested in maintaining or repairing what they have to save money. Another reason may be that our DIY Ultimate Guide series books tend to be extremely high-value packages—lots of pages, lots of photos, lots of information at a reasonable price."

Bakke continues, "We see a lot of first-time homeowners coming into the market. They may be newlyweds, single parents establishing a new home, or recent graduates eager to establish themselves. We published I Didn't Know That! How to Take Care of Your Home, Your Car, and Your Career by Patrick O'Keefe [Aug.] for them."

Bakke does note that some subjects have run their course: "Books on decorative trimwork, once very hot, have slowed to a crawl. Books on flooring, basements, sheds, and gazebos have been disappointing. Consumers also don't seem to be interested in books on home safety. Some subjects, though important to everyday living for the average home-owner, do not translate into good-selling books. Surprisingly, any book we have published in the ‘green' category has not done well for us."

Hot on the decorating side are books on color schemes and luxury kitchens and bathrooms, though (counterintuitively, as Bakke himself notes) more nuts-and-bolts books on kitchen organization, outdoor kitchens, and eat-in kitchens have not sold as strongly. Also disappointing are books on window treatments, painting, soft furnishings, general makeovers, and lighting.

Firefly Books: President and Publisher Lionel Koffler

Despite Creative Homeowner's experience with green titles, Lionel Koffler believes that one upside to a down economy is that it is drawing a new audience to environmentally friendly topics. He points to an October 18 New York Times article about conservative global warming skeptics in Salina, Kans., who are nevertheless attempting to cut back on fossil fuel use as part of something called the Climate and Energy Project, which focuses on financial savings and patriotic duty rather than a sense of social responsibility.

Helpful Tip
"In a room that is used primarily after dark, a heavily textured fabric or a layered window treatment can warm the atmosphere." Simplicity Home Decorating Book by Simplicity, Trafalgar Square, $34.95 (Mar.)


He sees two sides to the "green" issue: the creation of books on environmental friendliness, and the greening of the process of making books themselves. For example, says Koffler, "More and more we send digital files to our printers and they send digital proofs back, so there aren't printers' proofs going back and forth by courier. That's a green saving."

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