USA – Bookstore Sales Fell 17% in August. Ebooks fell, or rose, depending on where you look.

From The New Publishing Standard:

Publishers Weekly carries news of a US census Bureau report showing that US bookstore sales “dropped 17.3% in August, falling to $872 million.”

Per PW, “traditionally, August and January are two of biggest sales months for bookstores, since they incorporate the rush period at college campuses.

Jim Milliot notes, “For instance, Barnes & Noble Education, one of the nation’s largest college store chains, is making a major effort this semester to promote its First Day Complete program, which provides students with all the course materials they need—mostly digital—which are included as a fee or as part of tuition; the strategy has resulted in the decline of print textbooks.”

Thus far, it is not clear just how much college books shifting to digital are contributing to the 17% August decline, but the overall message is clear – print sales in bricks & mortar stores slumped in August compared to last year.

At the same time, the AAP BookStat reports book sales overall (inc. online) up 8.5% in August, with PW’s John Maher running with the headline “Publishing Industry Sales Rebounded in August“, but noting ebooks were down 5.4%.

Important to remember here that, while print sales, easily tracked by ISBNs, cover pretty much all the market, the ebook numbers tell only a partial story.

Contrast the 5.4% AAP-recorded decline in ebook sales against the 10% rise, year on year, in the Kindle Unlimited pot pay-out for August.

August 2023 saw Amazon pay out $49.6 million in royalties, mostly to self-publishers and small presses, all untracked by the AAP.

(PG note: This report appears to include only Kindle Unlimited payments, not the almost certainly higher total for royalties on sales of indie authors who don’t participate in KU or participate with some books, but not all books.)

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

3 thoughts on “USA – Bookstore Sales Fell 17% in August. Ebooks fell, or rose, depending on where you look.”

  1. I find the entire article hard to believe, as it appears to exclude textbooks, reference works (also frequently purchased at the beginning of the academic year, which is mostly in August), and academic works entirely. Of course, part of this is that the textbook sections of college bookstores seldom participate in BookScan, so gathering the data would require some effort.

    This is historically one of the reasons that pure-trade sales (keeping in mind that trade books sold for courses, such as a copy of the rotten Penguin translation of The Brothers Karamazov for English 242, are treated as “textbooks” for this purpose by the stores — and the online rental companies) have always “dropped” during the last half of August and first couple weeks of September, and in January.

    tl;dr Be skeptical, GIGO.

    • Textbooks are also moving strongly to app-locked digital to reduce used book sales.
      Bookscan can’t capture that even if it care about anything other than the BPH withering domain.

      • The numbers also don’t cover rentals, which is a growing part of the market. For dead tree editions, many community colleges have been purchasing a limited number of books that they lend on a first-come, first-served basis – and ban their teachers from requiring the latest edition for three to five years.

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