Bookstore Sales Erosion Is Only Part of the Story

PrintCom monthly bookstore volume comparison for sales from 2007 to 2010. (Double click to enlarge.)

Against the backdrop of a bankrupt Borders bookstore chain and Amazon.com’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.

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