FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Burying your head in a book during the crisis buffeting world financial markets may be just what the doctor -- or the bookseller -- ordered, publishers argued on Wednesday at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
While luxuries are increasingly unaffordable, most people still have enough money to buy a book, and booksellers could even use the opportunity to stage a resurgence, said Fran Dubruille, director of the European Booksellers' Federation.
"In these troubled times, the book is something which is a kind of landmark, which is solid reference and value, which is never, ever, ever going to be obsolete," she told a news conference on the first day of the world's biggest book fair.
"The book is a cheap gift. The book is always affordable," she said. "Actually, maybe the crisis is a chance for booksellers to reassert their role in the community as providers of pleasure, of knowledge, for a very, very cheap price."
According to a survey of German-language publishers carried out by the book fair's organizers, most foresee a stable business environment.
"Books seem to be resistant to economic cycles -- an expression of the fact that they are not luxuries but indispensable to life," the fair's director, Juergen Boos, said in a speech.
But statistics released at the start of the week-long fair show exhibitor numbers slightly down to 7,373 this year.
Alan Adler, chairman of the American Publishers' Association copyright committee also warned that educational publishers, for example, might suffer from tighter budgets.
"Among other problems we're having in this economic crisis is the ability of families to get the loans that they need to send their children to college," he said.
"One of the issues that arises is not only the rise in tuition at universities around the world but also the cost of the books, textbooks and other instructional materials that are absolutely an essential part of the pedagogical exercise."
Results released on Wednesday by Pearson, the world's biggest educational publisher, showed slowing sales growth both in its education division and at Penguin Books.
The crisis could also dampen enthusiasm for pocket-sized, electronic readers such as Amazon's Kindle or Sony's Reader, which have been winning fans but which retail for about $350 apiece.
"Not many people can afford this," said Dubruille. "I think the ereader is probably going to evolve further before it reaches the masses."
Reporting by Georgina Prodhan, editing by Paul Casciato