Yesterday's Book Industry Study Group's annual meeting and conference
had more information than we can handle in one issue so today we'll
focus on the hottest presentation of the day: the preview of BISG's
study of the used book market, which will be published next month.
(More BISG coverage tomorrow.)
Among the highlights of the study, presented by Jeff Hayes, group director of
InfoTrends Research Group, which conducted the study, and based on statistics from the major players and surveys
of people in the industry and consumers:
- Used books are becoming mainstream.
- The substantial growth in used book sales is occurring online.
textbooks are still a big-ticket item, representing a quarter of the
overall text market, and retain a place in college stores, but
competition is growing.
- Used trade books sell in huge numbers, but prices are low and they're still a small part of the overall trade market.
- Sales of used books are growing in categories beyond their traditionally strong ones.
are coming to believe that in "a fairly short time" they will be able
to find used copies of books that have just been published.
- More and more inventory of used books is coming to the market and more and more transactions will take place online.
Used book sales in 2004 rose 11.1% to $2.2 billion. Almost all the
growth in used books comes from online retailers: they had sales of
$609 million, up 33.3%. By contrast, at stores, sales rose 4.6% to
$1.57 million, mostly because of price increases. When college stores
are excluded, sales of used books at bricks-and-mortar stores are going down.
Measured by dollars sales, the educational market swamped the
noneducational market because the value of used textbooks is so much
greater than that of used trade books. Educational used books sales
totaled $1.6 billion and represented 28% of the overall new and used
educational book market. Used general book sales amounted to $589
million and are still a very small part, about 2.8%, of the total noneducational book
Measured by unit sales, noneducational titles swamped educational. Some
111.2 million used books were sold in 2004, up 11%. Of that amount,
72.6 million were noneducational titles and 38.6 million were
The average sales price of a used book in 2004 was $19.98. The average price of a used educational book
was $42.31 while the average non-educational used book cost $8.12.
Online retailers were able to get higher prices than their
Consumer attitudes toward used books are improving. Hayes characterized
consumer satisfaction with used books as "high," adding that it will
The Online Players
Online booksellers have fundamentally altered the market, automating
the buying process, adding respectability to buying and selling used
books and aggressively moving inventory in, all of which is helping the
market continue to grow. Sales at online stores are expanding from
textbooks and collectibles to professional and trade. Sales in all
major categories grew in double digits last year; the fastest-growing
categories were fiction, at 54.5%, and educational, at 51.8%.
The online booksellers include three types:
retailers who sell new and used titles in stores and online, like Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Powell's.
marketplaces, like Abebooks, Alibris, Amazon, Biblio and eBay, which let stores and consumers sell books.
online specialists, usually individuals working from home, sometimes
ex-bookstore owners, who tend to sell part time, sell fewer than 1,000 volumes
a year and have sales on average of $10,000.
The study estimates that there are about 4,200 used bookstores, all but
5% with single locations and with a strong focus by category and types
of customers. The stores have $100,000 a year in median annual sales
and sell 5,000 books a year. Already 44% of their business is online,
and this will continue to rise. Used bookstores sell few new books; but
new bookstores sell about 20% used.
Of 6,100 independent stores (including 2,800 religion bookstores)
specializing in new books, 65% sell used books. These stores have
$250,000 in median sales and sell 15,000 books a year, 19% of which are
used. About a quarter of these stores sell used books online, and most
of those are partners with the "marketplace" online sites, including
Abebooks, Alibris, Amazon, Biblio and B&N.com. More and more new
bookstores will sell used books online. While used booksellers and
online specialists sell many collectible titles, new bookstores don't
sell many of them.
College bookstores dominate the used textbook market, but are facing
increasing competition from the Internet as students are researching
online for prices both to buy and to sell textbooks.
Chain bookstores, with 2,281 outlets, are the only category not selling used books.
The 117,000 libraries are increasingly dealing with used books,
sometimes as a way of disbursing old titles and rounding out their
collections. Many of them have opened stores on the premises, often
with friends of the library groups, and tend to sell children's and
adult trade titles at "very low prices."
The study estimates that there are 7,000 thrift shops and resale
stores, and that 45,000 yard sales occur every week at which books are
sold for a quarter to $5. Flea markets are another venue for used book sales as well as
Goodwill, which amazingly has an online auction site for buying and
One amusing effect of the growth of online used book sales and the increasing sophistication of the reader-bookseller is the
complaint that a lot of "good stuff" is bypassing yard sales and going
A Few General Trends
At new bookstores, 48.3% of used titles for sale are still in print,
while 29.9% of titles offered by used bookstores are still in print,
but these numbers are going up. Increasingly Hayes said, "new books are
becoming available as used books more quickly."
Only "a very small portion" of consumers buy only used books. Four out
of 10 books purchased by students are used, while for non students the
ratio is two out of 10. Students are willing to pay as much as 45%-50%
of the new book price for a used book while nonstudents pay 30%-40% of
a new book price.