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Book Store Statistics – Part 1

One of the aspects of the book publishing industry which has seen the greatest changes in the last decade is how books are sold. Thus we thought a look at statistics on book stores may provide an interesting perspective on the business.

The following graph shows total retail sales at book stores for the period 1992 through 2009, both in and in inflation-adjusted dollars. There has been growth in sales over this period, although since 2000 that growth has stagnated and, in fact, has not kept up with inflation since 2004.

Retail Book Stores Sales

One thing that struck us in looking at these data was the fact that book store sales, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, include a whole lot of sales of things other than books. Stores sales are broken into categories. These categories, etablished by the Census Bureau, include such things as “groceries and other foods for human consumption,” “men’s wear, including accessories,” “women’s, juniors, and misses’ wear, including accessories,” “computer hardware, software, and supplies,” and “toys, hobby goods and game,” to name but a few. This caused us to look more deeply into the data and pull out book sales so we could look at those separately from non book sales hoping this would give us a better picture of what’s going on.

Book Stores Sales by Category

In order to get to the category-by-category breakdown of book store sales we had to limit ourselves to data for full Economic Census years, 1997, 2002, and 2007. What becomes clear looking at this second graph is the fact that the non-book sales have grown at a much faster clip (71.7% from 1997 to 2007) than have book sales (25.1%). Furthermore, the growth in book sales is dominated by increased sales of textbooks, which grew at a rate of 123.3% between 1997 and 2007 whereas all sales of books other than textbooks actually declined by 0.9% during the same period.

Food for thought.

Yes, yes, we know. These data do not cover eBook sales…which we have seen in prior posts are a category that’s still very hard to track. Also, as of 2009, eBooks represented 1.3% of actual book sales (see earlier post, here). So, while eBooks aren’t a part of this look at book retailing, these data are interesting, trustworthy, and provide a most fascinating picture of how book retailing is being done these days, not least the sorts of changes happening in this area.

We’ll look into comparing these data with online sales of books next.

Source Note:

Please note that the data in the first graphic are total book store sales whereas the data in the second graphic are total book stores product sales which are slightly different.

For those who are interested, here’s a table with the figures charted above.

Book Store Sales data in a table

The figures we used all come from U.S. Census Bureau reports available at the two following web sites:

Monthly & Annual Retail Trade data:

Economic Census data:


4 Responses

  1. Another interesting develpment is Google’s plan to offer its own ebooks, “Google Editions” later this summer. An article in toay’s Business Section of the NY Times reports on a deal Google has entered with the American Bookseller’s Association.

    You might find that of interest in researching the book selling business.

  2. Very interesting.

    It certainly explains the ever-growing shelf space devoted to gift wrapping, DVDs, calendars, etc. at Borders, and the ever-shrinking shelf space devoted to books.

    • So true. I should also have mentioned, in the post, that University Book Stores are a big part of the book store universe and we all remember how many other things they stock. That also explains, to some extent, why text books have been such a growing part of the book store sales profile, as non achademic book stores decline and the university stores grow as a portion of the industry.

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