Books by the Numbers

Data from two studies presented by Len Vlahos, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), at this year’s Winter Institute, provided booksellers with an overview of an industry clearly in flux. While the studies, “BookStats” and “Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading,” might include “some scary numbers,” Vlahos stressed that those numbers were not necessarily predictors of the future. “What we’re seeing right now is so much flux, and while it’s hard to tell where things are going, it’s important to have some context,” he said.

The 2011 edition of BookStats, a study conducted by BISG and the Association of American Publishers (AAP), tracked publisher net sales to the trade from 2008 through 2010 from close to 2,000 participating publishers. The result, said Vlahos, is a “really good, comprehensive look at the industry” seen through three different lenses: category, channel, and format.

The industry as a whole is worth approximately $27.5 billion, Vlahos said. Of that, trade titles — fiction, nonfiction, juvenile, and religion — represent about half of the revenue, and account for about 80 percent of the units sold (the discrepancy is attributable to trade’s lower unit price compared to educational and professional books). Among the study’s good news, he said, “is that through the depths of the recession, there was modest growth in both revenue and unit sales.”

The BookStats data indicates that digital growth most notably affected sales in fiction, and, though the volume of e-book sales has increased dramatically, Vlahos said that preliminary data seen from a number of studies suggest that the growth in e-book sales slowed in the second half of 2011.

In an analysis of overall market share, when institutional sales (sales from publishers to schools, corporations, etc.), export sales, and unclassified sales are excluded, independent bookstores account for 6.3 percent of the market share of publisher net sales to the trade (publishers’ net sales to wholesalers are tracked separately). [lgv1] When sales are isolated to just the four trade categories — fiction, nonfiction, juvenile, and religion — indie market share of publisher net sales to the trade goes up to 7.24 percent.

The results of the BISG study “Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading” validates that there is ample opportunity for indies to capitalize on digital trends, Vlahos said. Though consumers are spending less on hardcovers and paperbacks, the survey found that their overall spending on books has increased.

When it comes to e-book discovery (where consumers find most of their information about current and upcoming e-books), nearly 10 percent of respondents said they learned about their next e-read in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, Vlahos said, and there has been significant growth in the use of the websites of physical bookstores.

The study also found that dedicated e-readers continue to be consumers’ preferred e-reading device and that tablets and computers have failed to gain traction for reading. “What does this tell us?” asked Vlahos. “I would posit that the transformation to e-books is not the biggest threat to the book industry. It’s other forms of entertainment. I call it The Angry Birds problem.”

Vlahos concluded by saying that both studies showed that the industry is growing, and e-books continue to show explosive growth at the expense of print formats. While the future growth of e-books is still too volatile to accurately predict, “digital is here to stay,” Vlahos said.