The tax-revision juggernaut rumbling through Capitol Hill is threatening to turn publishers' best sellers about financial planning, real estate tax shelters and IRAs into write-offs.
"The sale of real estate books has already slowed because a lot of people are taking a wait-and-see attitude," said Fred Hills, a senior editor and vice president of trade publishing for Simon & Schuster Inc., the nation's largest book publisher.
"And I think that IRA books will probably diminish or disappear," he said.
Books in Print lists dozens of IRA and real estate investment titles.
Passage of pending tax legislation, particularly something close to the version now being considered by the Senate, would turn the existing tax code topsy-turvy, stripping away some of the most cherished tax shelters -- such as real estate and individual retirement accounts -- and forcing financial planning authors and publishers to think of new investment strategies to peddle to the public.
Even though these proposed tax changes wouldn't take effect until next year, they're already having an impact on publishers and booksellers alike.
"I'm buying tax books such as the J. K. Lasser and Arthur Young tax guides much differently than I have before," said Tim Pletscher, who purchases books for the McGraw-Hill Professional Bookstore in New York, one of the city's largest book shops.
He said that if the tax reforms go through, "those books would be unneccessary."
As for financial planning books, Pletscher said, "These are the books I'm having a bit of a problem with for this fall. I'm buying them because of the nature of the store, but I'm buying them very light -- a fraction of my normal order.
"If I was a publisher in this category -- an investment type or real estate book -- I would hold it until the dust settled," Pletscher said.
Similarly, "we'd rather hold back than put something out there that's dated," said a spokeswoman for the Waldenbooks chain, pointing out that summer is the season when orders for financial planning and tax books are made.
A B. Dalton book chain spokeswoman said her firm's buyers "still haven't made a decision" on what books to order "because it's so iffy."
"We can't act until we see what the publishers are offering," she said.
Sales of financial planning books -- particularly tax-related ones -- are highly seasonal, generally peaking in the first quarter of the year. Indeed, tax guides often hit the best-seller lists.
"Last year, no fewer than three tax guides made our bestseller list," said Publishers Weekly editor John Baker. "If tax reform goes through, that should be considerably diminished, I would think."
While conceding that there will be a sales "pause," Simon & Schuster's Hills takes the view that what the tax revision takes away from today's best-seller lists, it will add to tomorrow's: "The books will all need revision, and they will flourish grandly."
Indeed, said Joseph Esposito, president of the Prentice Hall division that publishes the best-selling J. K. Lasser tax guide, "Tax-reform legislation will be a boon for tax preparation publishers. I'm amused that this is being called a tax simplification act.
"It is a tax complication act, and it is going to increase demand for our products. J. K. Lasser will be wholly revised to reflect the new legislation," he said.
One aspect of the legislation that distresses Esposito, however, is that after Jan. 1, the tax guide would no longer be tax deductible.