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Fall's bounty of books

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Add other complicating factors, such as the rise of books in electronic form and the desperate struggle of some booksellers, and the fall looks to be one humdinger of a season for publishers, stores, and authors, not to mention ordinary readers.

This fall has "a little more sense of urgency to it," says Arsen Kashkashian, inventory manager at Boulder Book Store in Colorado, expressing perhaps the most calm of anyone in the industry.

Literary agent Robert Gottlieb may be more representative when he puts it this way: "Fall has always been important, but never this important."

Particularly at stake, Mr. Gottlieb says, are the fates of publishing imprints and the struggling Borders chain of bookstores.

It has, after all, been a bad year for the book business, which has suffered from layoffs and cutbacks like other forms of media. "People said books were recession-proof, but that was only until there was a good-sized recession," says Mr. Kashkashian.

In the United States, book sales as a whole only fell by 1.5 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to the Book Industry Study Group. But at bookstore chains, sales dipped by 10 percent or more in late 2008, and they continued to slump this year. Borders, for example, saw sales drop by 12 percent in the first quarter of 2009.

If fewer books are selling, why are so many big books coming out in the next three months? It appears that publishers simply want to try to salvage a bad year.

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