US book sales hold up, despite Borders collapse and e-book growth

Print books sales in the US fell 9% in 2011, with strong growth in digital sales appearing to offset at least some of this decline. Sales lost from the collapse of Borders Inc were partially clawed back by other retailers, with Barnes & Noble estimating that the closing of Borders would give it a $200m to $230m boost for the year: and some independents reporting their best Christmas ever.

Christmas sales in the US overall seemed to be up, but that includes the combination of print and digital books. Nielsen BookScan numbers for the week ended 18th December showed units down 14% compared to 2010 and the final week of Christmas sales were off 6%. For the full year, print unit sales at outlets tracked by Nielsen BookScan were down 9%, with Nielsen reckoning that 650m units were shifted over the year.

No final numbers for e-book sales available yet, but Barnes & Noble's holiday report showed the impact of both e-book sales and the closing of its major competitor. Digital content sales during the nine-week holiday period, increased 113%. Sales through the B&N stores increased 2.5% over the prior year period to $1.2bn—the first time in five years this has happened. Of course Amazon had already reported record numbers of Kindle sales and downloads.

Interviews with independent booksellers found most enjoying a strong Christmas, aided by good weather and the demise of Borders. Three stores said it was their best Christmas ever. Nearly all sales through indie booksellers are of physical books.

The switching of formats was reflected in the charts. According to a report in USA Today, in the weeks before Christmas, the number of titles on its bestseller list where the e-book outsold the hardcover or paperback edition declined — from 12 in the top 50 in early November to three the week before Christmas. But in the week after Christmas for 42 of the top 50 titles, the e-book editions were the most popular format.

Additional reporting by Jim Milliot, Publishers Weekly