New Day for a New Age at INATS

“Not your father’s New Age,” trade rag New Age Retailer’s current marketing tagline, was the message being touted at the 2003 International New Age Trade Show (INATS) West on June 28-30 at the Denver Merchandise Mart. What began as a metaphysical and jewelry show in 1996 has grown three times in size to its current 320 exhibitors, with 1,400-1,500 attendees, where you can find just about anything. This year’s show size is “right on track with the 2002 show, a positive sign in light of the sluggish economy,” explains Andrew Toplarski, INATS Director of Show Production.

In fact, New Age is growing out of its category in so many directions that it’s hard for publishers to agree on one classification. “Mind-Body-Spirit,” “Conscious Living for a New Age,” and “Spirituality/Metaphysical” are just a few of the monikers being thrown at the segment. What’s clear from publishers who attended INATS is that, despite a slow year in general, they see increasing opportunity in the New Age category from mainstream America. Publishing powerhouses such as Penguin, HarperCollins, and Barron’s Educational Series put a stake in the INATS ground several years ago. And word has it that Random House is looking to attend INATS-East next January.

So why now? Stress and uncertainty in the US market — not to mention world politics — continues to take a toll on mainstream consumers who don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, according to INATS-West Marketing Director Aubin Wilson. “9/11 brought the world’s struggles to our home soil, and we’re seeing a whole re-evaluation of peace, the meaning of life, the family, and home as reflected in the abundance of spiritual ‘how-to’ books and home accessories now available.”

It’s no coincidence that Hay House had the most successful month in their history right after 9/11, and their inspirational/self-help category sales have increased 33% year-over-year in the past five years, according to Publicity Director Jacqui Clark. Perhaps a bigger factor in warming up mainstreamers to New Age — young adults in particular — has been the proliferation of supernatural-focused TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed, not to mention the whole Harry Potter phenomenon. Once-taboo topics such as Wicca, Pagan, and Tarot are now sold in adult-version kits at your local Target, Sam’s Club, or Costco. “People want to take more control over their lives and they want to find all the answers in a single product,” explains Llewelyn Vice President Gabe Weschcke.

Penguin sees the New Age segment as a way of identifying new accounts for such cross-category megasellers as The Secret Life of Bees as well as to promote backlist, according to Marketing Manager Christine Duplessis. Likewise, Barron’s Sales Rep Don Rausch notes that sales of “middle-of-the-road” spirituality series to New Age distributors have been extremely strong — 2002 sales with New Leaf Distributing were up 35% over 2001, due to increasing acceptance of backlist titles such as The Book of Spells. New Leaf CFO Santosh Krinsky states that he’s “very happy” about mainstream interest in New Age, as it “prepares the ground for more people wanting to go to the next level.”

Red Wheel•Weiser•Conari President and CEO Michael Kerber agrees that there’s a benefit to the big and small outfits playing together in the New Age market. “For frontlist titles, we rely on the chains to establish the new titles; then we rely on the independent stores to keep the new titles alive over the longer term,” Kerber says. “Our most successful independent booksellers are marketing interactive workshops and/or reinventing themselves as ‘lifestyle resource centers,’” a development that’s consistent with the all-in-one approach consumers are demanding today.

We thank Denver-based freelance business writer Kelly Roark for contributing this report.