Some good news for the book business

BookStats, an annual survey that tracks the American publishing industry, finds that, contrary to doomsday predictions, bookstores and paper-and-ink books are still in demand.

Robert Galbraith/Reuters
According to the survey by BookStats, bookstores like City Lights in San Francisco, Cali. were still the number one sales channel for books last year.

Despite ominous forecasts predicting the end of print books and bricks-and-mortar bookstores, traditional books and booksellers are still going strong, even as sales of e-books surge, according to BookStats, an annual survey that tracks the US publishing industry.

While e-book revenues have more than doubled in the past year and surpassed print to become the dominant format for adult fiction, print continued to account for the vast majority of publishing sales, the survey found.

“There’s been exponential growth [in e-books] in the past few years,” said Tina Jordan, vice president of the Association of American Publishers, which co-produced the BookStats survey. “From what we’ve seen so far in 2012, the growth is continuing.”

Conducted by two trade groups, the Book Industry Study Group and the Association of American Publishers, the BookStats survey includes data collected from nearly 2,000 US publishers.

Among the key highlights of the BookStats survey:

• E-book sales and revenues more than doubled between 2010 and 2011, from 125 million e-books sold in 2010 accounting for $869 million in revenues to 388 million e-books sold in 2011 accounting for more than $2 billion in revenues. 

• In the adult fiction category, e-books made up 30 percent of net revenue, making it the dominant format in net revenue among all print and electronic formats.

• Print accounted for 85 percent of the publishing industry’s general interest sales in 2011, proving that the book market is a long way from going all digital.

• Online retail accounted for some 18.5 percent of book sales in 2011, or $5.04 billion in revenues, a 35 percent jump between 2010 and 2011.

• But bricks-and-mortar retail still ranked as the No. 1 sales channel for books in 2011, accounting for 31.5 percent of total book sales, or $8.59 billion.

• Overall trade publishing revenues remained flat, going from $13.90 billion in 2010 to $13.97 billion in 2011. E-book revenues were about $2 billion, replacing more than $1 billion in lost print revenues in 2011.

The survey revealed several telling insights. The popularity of e-books for adult fiction suggests “the growing strength of the e-book for narrative, straightforward storytelling,” writes the New York Times’s Media Decoder blog.

Aside from the surge in e-books, perhaps the brightest spot in books was in the children’s/young adult category, which saw a 12 percent increase in sales in 2011 to $2.78 billion – the largest jump of any subcategory.

The survey also suggests that the bankruptcy and subsequent shuttering of hundreds of Borders retail outlets took a toll on book sales, which tumbled 12.6 percent to $8.59 billion in 2011 (e-books helped replace some of those lost print sales, however). Still, despite the growing dominance of Amazon and the shuttering of Borders, bricks-and-mortar stores continue to be the primary method of getting books into the hands of customers.

“I would never dare to call an industry healthy, but it certainly seems to be robust,” Dominique Raccah, the publisher of Sourcebooks and co-chairwoman of the Book Industry Study Group, told the New York Times. “We, as an industry, appear to be getting books into more hands.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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