E-Retailers Now Accounting for Nearly Half of Book Purchases by Volume, Overtake Physical Retail

In 2012, for the first time ever, online channels accounted for more book purchases than bricks-and-mortar retail in the U.S., according to new data from Bowker Market Research.

In 2012 (through Nov.), 43.8% of books bought by consumers were sold online versus 31.6% sold in large retail chains, independent bookstores, other mass merchandisers and supermarkets. This is nearly a direct reversal of the situation in 2011, when 35.1% of books were sold online and 41.7% were sold in stores.

Online channels grew by about eight points while supermarkets, mass merchandisers and indie bookstores held their market share. It was large book retail chains that suffered the biggest market share decline — to 18.7% of book purchases versus 28.7% the year prior.

us retail market share

Perhaps the disappearance of Borders contributed to the shift in buying behavior. It had been thought that indie bookstores and Barnes & Noble would be the beneficiaries of the disappearance of Borders. Disappointing Barnes & Noble sales figures for the past several quarters suggest that the large U.S. book chain picked up few Borders customers.

“This is the Borders effect,” said Jo Henry, director of Bowker Market Research. “Borders went from 9% to nothing, year-on-year.”

In the UK, the situation is different. Chain bookstore retail didn’t crater in 2012, actually gaining a point in market share, rising to 27.6% of all book purchases. Overall, physical retail accounted for 58.8% of all book purchases versus 37.7% for online retail. However, there was a shift in 2012 toward online retail, which accounted for under a third of book purchases in 2011 in the UK.

uk retail share

“Amazon has always been strong in the UK market,” said Henry. “These trends are not really showing just how much the chains have been suffering.”

Henry added that other Bowker data show that UK ebook buyers who buy their ebooks from Amazon tend to shift their print-book buying to Amazon, too.

“That is an added threat to the high-street bookseller,” said Henry, referring to the shopping districts in neighborhoods in the UK, known as high streets.

The Bowker study also found that the percentage of all book purchases accounted for by ebooks has leveled off in 2012 — a pattern that is has followed in previous years after a surge during the holiday season. According to the data, nearly 30% of all books purchased in the U.S. are ebooks, a number that has been relatively stable since about March 2012. It shot up from just under 20% during the 2011/2012 holiday season. Adoption has steadily risen from about 2% in Jan. 2009.

us ebook share


[Press Release]

e-Reading Habits Drive Market Share Growth of e-Retailers, says New Study from Bowker
Books & Consumers study sheds light on dynamics of U.S. and U.K. book markets

The rise in e-book reading in the U.S. and U.K. over the last three years has been a key driver in the market share gains of e-retailers, according to research being released this month by Bowker Market Research. In the U.S., e-retailers accounted for 44 percent of book purchases by volume in 2012, up from 25 percent in 2010. In the U.K. the rise has been somewhat less dramatic but still significant, up from 25 percent in January-November 2010, to 38 percent in the same period in 2012.

E-retailers market share increases come at the expense of chain booksellers in the U.S., where their market share has dropped from 32 percent to 19 percent of volume. This sector has proved more resilient in the U.K., but even there the bookshop share as a whole fell from 43 percent during January-November 2010 to 37 percent in the equivalent months in 2012.

“It is clear that the e-book format has really come of age in the US,” said Jo Henry, Director of Bowker Market Research, a service of ProQuest affiliate Bowker. “E-books’ market share has seen steady growth since January 2009, with steep rises after each Christmas.”

In November 2012, 28 percent of all book purchases in the U.S. were in e-book format — a dramatic rise from six percent in November 2010. In the U.K., the e-book share of the market reached a peak of 13 percent in July 2012, at the height of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, but fell back to about nine percent in November 2012.

Supporting data is available on Bowker’s Bookconsumer.com site.

About Bowker® (www.bowker.com)
Bowker is the world’s leading provider of bibliographic information and management solutions designed to help publishers, booksellers, and libraries better serve their customers. Creators of products and services that make books easier for people to discover, evaluate, order, and experience, the company also generates research and resources for publishers, helping them understand and meet the interests of readers worldwide. Bowker, a ProQuest affiliate, is the official ISBN Agency for the United States and its territories. The company is headquartered in New Providence, New Jersey, with additional operations in England and Australia.

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