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Bookstore Sales Erosion Is Only Part of the Story

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Against the backdrop of a bankrupt Borders bookstore chain and’s booming book business—print and e-book—the erosion of industry-wide brick-and-mortar bookstore volume continued in 2010. Sales dropped by $233 million to an industry total of $16.5 billion, a decline of 1.4 percent compared to last year’s gross revenue of $16.7 billion. Store sales have been declining since 2007 when they hit a peak of $17.4 billion, a drop of 5.5 percent in the last three years.

The Borders Group (the second largest U.S. book chain) bankruptcy filing on Wednesday morning came as no surprise to book industry observers. Although some sources attribute Borders failure to the growth of e-book materials, there is more to the story. The chain has struggled with management miscues for several years.

As Borders and small independents failed, Barnes & Noble, the number one U.S. chain in volume, and book behemoth Amazon have become more aggressive in pursuing the reading consumer. Some analysts have expressed the opinion that Barnes & Noble will end up with the “best of Borders” remains.

Meanwhile, digital press manufacturers have increased their tempo to snare a larger share of the printed book production market.

The bookstore sales analysis done by the PrintCom Consulting Group is based on data from the U.S. Census monthly sales report for retail and food services trade through December 2010 and summarizes the complete year. The data includes the sales of all types of merchandise—including e-reading devices and e-books—sold by brick-and-mortar stores generally classified as ‘bookstores’ (NAICS 451211). Printed books and e-materials sold via Websites, including personal or vanity books and photo books, are not included in the data.

If merchandise other than printed books is taken out of the bookstore sales mix, PrintCom estimates that bookstore printed book sales declined between 2.5 percent and 3 percent in 2010. Store sales in the November/December Christmas selling season were at the marginally highest level since pre-recession 2007.

Double click on the above chart to view the PrintCom monthly bookstore volume comparison for sales from 2007 to 2010.

Although growing rapidly according to IBIS World research, e-book sales make up a small portion of the industry’s 2,760 publishers’ revenue. The advent of e-books, combined with recession-induced tighter spending, had pushed a growing number of publishers to reduce inventory costs—long a major “thorn in the side problem”—through the utilization of digital printing, shorter initial printing run lengths, on-demand store replenishment and direct order fulfillment. Trade books—hard and soft cover—have led the move to digital printing.

PrintCom research shows that 30-40 percent of current e-book sales are generated by adults who previously bought few, if any, printed books. Low cost, instant availability convenience and gift giving are the three primary factors behind this new book market. The printed text book market has not yet felt a significant impact from e-books. However, with the introduction of color capable readers, a significant share of the text book market is expected by PrintCom to migrate from print to electronic.

The 2011 book industry can best be described as volatile and disrupted, requiring companies with a vested interest in this market to continuously monitor the industry’s modus operandi.

The PrintCom Consulting Group is one of the print and communications industries’ leading consultancies. Headquartered in Charlotte, NC, the group includes 16 associate consultants with a broad senior level background and experience in conventional and digital production processes as well as the requirements of the industry’s market segments. For detailed information about PrintCom, contact Bill Lamparter, the group’s president and well known industry analyst. PrintCom Consulting Group; 1020 Farm Creek Rd.; Waxhaw, NC  28173; (704) 843-5350 or

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