Can Steve Jobs keep the book biz strong?

Everything’s been hit hard with the economy going down, including the book business, but there’s been a major saving grace lately: the biography of Steve Jobs.

The book, which was written by Walter Isaacson with Jobs’s cooperation, has been on the top of the best-sellers list since its release on October 24, and it’s not going to slow down any time soon.

According to CNN, the book sold 379,000 copies in the United States, which is huge for a non fiction book. Remember, only a small number of the 200,000 books released every year actually sell more than 25,000 copies.

Random House has also been doing very well with the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, while Little Brown had a mega hit last year with Keith Richards’s Life, which many bought as Christmas gifts, and is still on the best-seller list a year after its publication last fall.

But can a big hit like the Jobs book keep a publisher out of trouble during the recession, and more importantly, keep the book business in business?

As one publishing insider tells me, “The sales of the Jobs book helps the publisher first and booksellers, but it doesn’t save the book business. People still read books. But lots of people are reading them on a Kindle or Nook or iPad. I do think the publishing business has always had their head in the sand.

“If, and say if, more people are reading because of technology, so be it, but I doubt that. Publishers let giants like Amazon and Barnes and Noble take away their profit margins. So it is great that the Steve Jobs book is doing so well. But it ain’t gonna save the business. Same as in music.”

Another publishing veteran agrees, telling me, “I don’t think one book has such a strong impact on the entire publishing business. It is, after all, only one book. It will be terrific for Simon & Schuster; I expect it will sell perhaps 5 million copies or more.  Much of it as e-books which are tremendously profitable to publishers. And it will help bookstore sales.

“Publishing is going through a tremendous transition and while e-book sale increases are dramatic, they are not enough to make up for the loss of print book sales. The loss of 600 Borders stores means more than 500 places where people could view books and make unplanned purchases, are gone.”