The census bureau just reported their preliminary number for June bookstore sales, and they are down. They aren't just down for June, they've been down, on a year-to-year comparison every month since last September! I keep a running tally of bookstore sales reported by the census bureau on my oft-updated page about industry book sales:
All this is occurring while there's a new Harry Potter book out with record sales and several large publishers have reported sales growth. So what's going on?
The answer, I believe, lies in the small print of the census bureau reports, and where they categorize Amazon. Amazon isn't just the world's largest bookstore, they are either the #2 or #3 book retailer in the US behind Barnes and Noble. The reason I can't tell for sure if they are still behind Borders is that neither retailer breaks out their product mix to the extent where I can separate book sales from CD and DVD sales. And, of course, the comparison is in dollar amounts. If the average book sold by Amazon is appreciably cheaper than the average book sold by Borders, than Amazon is likely selling more books, even ignoring the influence of their Marketplace sales.
But back to the Census Bureau. Their category for bookstores specifically excludes:
"Retailing books via electronic home shopping, mail-order, or direct sale--are classified in Subsector 454, Nonstore Retailers"
The Nonstore Retailers segment has sales nearly 20 times as high the bookstore segment, I should do some forensics to see how it's grown. In any case, Amazon's Media sales have been growing in the double digit percentages, in the mid-teens, for the past five years. It's entirely possible that what the census bureau numbers are really telling us is that brick-and-mortar bookstore sales, despite price inflation, have peaked and are falling, but the publishing industry is still growing, slowly, by the amount of growth shown by Amazon. I'm going to drop them (the Census) a line and make sure I'm interpreting their categories correctly.