Publishers Weekly has posted a fascinating article about shifts in the “New Age” section at bookstores. According to Juan Martinez, the occult is out, and Oprah-style spiritual awareness is in.
“Traditionally, the New Age category has catered to aficionados of the esoteric and the occult. Today the genre gratifies a more mainstream consumer. Fading is the era of crystals and tarots. Nowadays, readers seek science-based titles that will help them become healthier and more spiritually aware. As New Age is continuing to expand into other categories, many titles that were once the provinces of health, psychology, self-help and spirituality (to name a few) have now assumed the New Age mantle. According to Jo Ann Deck, publisher of Celestial Arts and Crossing Press, the new New Age reader is “more practical and less interested in nebulous philosophical and spiritual exploration.” As a result, the genre reads more like Dr. Phil and Jack LaLanne than Carlos Castaneda and Ram Dass.”
While most of the publishers interviewed agree that there is an increasing dominance of New Age “hybrids” that intersect with self-help and “mind/body” subject matter (which they heavily credit Oprah for), there is some disagreement over how poorly “traditional” New Age books are actually doing. While a Llewellyn spokesperson claims that recent fiscal and political troubles have spurred the rise of the “hybrids”, Jan Johnson of Weiser books claims those same factors are selling “old-school” New Age titles (crystals, channeled entities, aliens, etc) like hotcakes.
“Jan Johnson credits the “shaky economy… unpopular war… and the global economic crises” as the impetus for more readers turning to “books that admit the possibilities of extraterrestrials and other entities.” Cosmic Connection: Messages for a Better World by Carole Lynne (Apr., 2009) looks to outer space to answer Earth’s difficult questions. According to Johnson, “Lynne shares information from her off-planet guidance about what we can do to survive the coming changes.” Johnson promises more books from Weiser on topics similar to Cosmic Connection—’We’re seeing much more openness to what used to be considered esoteric, strange or weird.’”
Everyone seems to agree that the “New Age” section itself is recession-proof, but what does that mean for occult, magical, and Pagan-oriented titles? This is completely anecdotal, but I’ve certainly noticed that the magical/Pagan section at my local Barnes & Noble has shrunk down to a few shelves, while the “New Age” section next to it is as large as ever. Are tomes concerning “The Secret” overwhelming studies of the Sefirot? Do retail bookstore buyers prefer Eckhart Tolle’s “Inspiration Deck” to Aleister Crowley’s Thoth deck? Only the balance sheets of the Pagan and occult publishers know for sure.