2006 Book Sales In North America

Just finished my annual review of retail book sales in North America based on the SEC filings of the big three, Barnes&Noble, Borders and Amazon. Or should I say Barnes&Noble, Amazon and Borders, since for the first time ever, Amazon's North American media sales topped the domestic sales of the entire Borders chain. In fact, Amazon's International sales also edged out Borders North American sales.

I break down books sales by retailer, and report the percentage changes going back over the six years I've been doing this. Amazon was the only double-digit grower this year, Barnes&Noble was up 2%, and by my calculations, Borders was down 1%. Overall US book sales were also down a little in 2006, according to the Census Bureau. Barnes&Noble, in their conference call, reported that they will stop breaking out B. Dalton sales after 2006 as the store closings reduce their impact. I always combined the numbers for the two so that's fine by me.

Total sales for the big three in North America were $12.03 billion in 2006 (books and media only for Amazon), which includes DVD's and CD's along with books, calendars, etc. However, the headline number for me, which I saved for the end, is that Amazon third party sales stuck at 28% for 2006, the same as 2005. This means that third party sales (Marketplace and other programs) didn't gain item shipment share at Amazon. Keep in mind that third party sales still grew in 2006, but they grew at the same pace as Amazon shipments of new items sold by Amazon, so the percentage remained the same.

Does this mean that used book sales and third party fulfillment of other items have reached equilibrium on the Amazon platform? I hope so, but I suspect that Amazon Prime and their free Super Saver shipping for most book orders over $25 has something to do with it. I mention this in case Amazon ever decides to drop their subsidized shipping programs, which cost them hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

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