12 Stats on the State of Bookstores in America Today


Over the past few decades there has been a lot of speculation about the demise of the American bookstore and some of it may not be entirely unfounded. As big names like Borders fall under the weight of online retailers, e-books, and electronic forms of entertainment, how can small independent bookstores hope to survive? While things aren’t great for bookstores in America today, they also aren’t quite as bad as they seem. Despite dire predictions about the future of print media, Americans still read quite a lot of books, shelling out billions of dollars for them every single year. While a hefty chunk of book sales now happen online, many bookstores both small and large are still raking in healthy profits. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but not everything is doom and gloom for America’s bookstores, as you’ll learn from these stats.

  1. Today, there are around 10,800 bookstores in the U.S.

    Though it might seem that bookstores are closing at a rapid pace, there are actually still an impressive amount of bookstores in the U.S.; about 10,800 in all, ranging from small, independent retailers to major chains, according to census data from 2002. Yet that number is considerably lower than the number recorded in 1997 when there were 12,363 stores, a 12.2% drop.

  2. There are more bookstores today than there were in 1930.

    While we like to fondly reminisce about the good old days when people spent more time reading and less time texting, watching television, and playing with a variety of gadgets, there are significantly more bookstores today than there were in the 1930s. In 1931, there were only 4,000 places in the U.S. where books could be purchased. The majority of these were gift shops that only sold a handful of the most popular novels. There were fewer than 500 actual bookstores, with most catering to an elite clientele in the nation’s biggest cities. When it comes to access to books and places to buy them, Americans are much better off today than they were in previous decades.

  3. Bookstore sales are declining, but slowly.

    Cultural commentary would have you believe that no one reads books anymore, but statistics show that that simply isn’t true. While bookstore sales have slumped since reaching a peak of $17.18 billion in 2007, bookselling is still a billion dollar industry. Two major factors have contributed to the 9.6% decrease in sales at bookstores since 2007: the growing popularity of e-books, and Borders going out of business. Both have caused serious drops in the number of bookstore sales, though competition with online retailers like Amazon is another major factor.

  4. E-books have captured $3.2 billion of the market.

    E-books offer readers convenience and the chance to save money on buying books, but they’re also causing bookstores to take a major hit. In 2011, e-books captured $3.2 billion of the bookselling market, and by 2016 that number is projected to grow to nearly $10 billion. That estimate could be pretty close to reality based on past trends; between 2010 and 2011 alone e-book sales rose by 210% and comprised 30% of all sales of adult fiction. Prior to the introduction of the Amazon Kindle, the e-book market was fairly insignificant. Now, with nearly 28% of Americans owning an e-reader device, it’s not uncommon to see sales jump exponentially from year to year.

  5. Amazon has 22.6% of the book market.

    One of the most formidable competitors to book retailers, big and small alike, has been Amazon, which in 2011 was estimated to have sold around 22.6% of the books in the U.S. In comparison, even a major retailer like Barnes & Noble has captured just 17.3% of the market. Drawn in by lower prices, free shipping, and easily accessible e-books, the online retailer has created a formula that is forcing independent booksellers to get creative about how they run their businesses, with some adding wine bars, learning to tweet, and renting out space for birthday parties.

  6. More than 1,000 bookstores closed between 2000 and 2007.

    Americans may still have access to a healthy number of bookstores, but that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been major closures over the past decade. Over a seven-year period, more than 1,000 bookstores closed down for good. Since 2007, hundreds more have closed, including more than 600 Borders stores.

  7. The number of independent bookstores dropped from 2,400 to 1,900 between 2002 and 2011.

    A big chunk of the booksellers who have closed their doors have been independent retailers who’ve found it hard to compete with online shops and e-books. The American Booksellers Association, a trade group for book retailers, has seen membership drop by 600 stores since 2002. Two decades ago, there were more than 4,000 independent bookstores in the U.S. Yet it’s not all bad news. Recent statistics show that the number of bookstores may finally have stabilized, today comprising about 10% of the industry’s retail market overall.

  8. Even mega-chains of bookstores are suffering.

    Big-box book retailers like Borders and Barnes & Noble may have once driven small, independent booksellers out of business, but today in the shadow of e-books and online retail, even mega-chains are suffering. Stores like Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Crown Books are long gone, but the biggest casualty has been Borders, who just last year closed more than 600 stores after filing for bankruptcy. So far, Barnes & Noble seems to have fared better, due in part to an early investment in an e-reader and online publishing platform but they’re not out of the woods. Things aren’t looking good for the mega-chain, even with a solid digital investment (Nook accounts for 27% of the digital market). The company is expected to lose even more than initially projected this year, causing stock prices to plummet and putting the major retailer on shaky ground going forward.

  9. Some cities read more than others.

    Book sales and bookstore success isn’t the same everywhere in the U.S. Factors like education and income play a major role in which cities foster serious book-friendly cultures and which, well, don’t. According to data from the Christian Science Monitor, the U.S. cities that are the most book crazy (buying the most books and boasting the greatest number of book retailers) are as follows: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose, and San Diego. On sheer number of bookstores alone, the results are a bit different. Seattle comes out on top, followed closely by San Francisco, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, and St. Louis.

  10. The average book buyer is 45 to 64, white, has a high income, is married, lives in the west, and is a college graduate.

    Who’s most likely to buy books? The results from small business research reports aren’t especially surprising. The largest demographics for book buyers are as follows: aged 45 to 64, high income, married, residing in the western USA, and college graduate. Customers with a college degree make up 57% of the book buying market and spend twice as much as other customers, with those holding a graduate degree spending 156% more than the national average on books. Middle-aged consumers spend the most on books, shelling out 28 to 33% more than other demographics. Those between 18 and 24 and over 65 spend the least amount on books. Even with prestigious schools and high-tech businesses all over the East Coast, westerners still outpace them in terms of book sales. Those who live in the Western U.S. spend 41% more than the national average on books.

  11. 2012 predictions for bookstores aren’t great, but aren’t terrible either.

    2012 isn’t projected to be a banner year for bookstores. This year, bookstore industry revenues are expected to fall by 1.1% to $19 billion, from $19.2 billion in 2011, a small but significant drop. While this reflects the slow and steady decline that’s marked the past few years, it’s more troubling in the wake of a recent rise of disposable income, which consumers are choosing to spend in other ways or to save rather than buying books. The number of bookstore establishments is also expected to decline, perhaps by as much as 2%. The only good news? Bookstore employment levels are projected to remain stable and wages for those employees will rise modestly.

  12. Yet independent bookstores may be making a comeback.

    The future isn’t entirely grim for independent booksellers. In fact, the closure of big retailers like Borders may actually have helped some independent bookstores not only stay afloat but to thrive. Others have simply found ways to make the service and selection at a small store more desirable, giving customers something that big-box stores and online retailers simply can’t. There’s also been a significant shift into niche markets. Some have begun to offer classes, cater to specific demographics, or even carry very limited selections of books. Many art bookshops have long held to this model, specializing in certain periods or opening up to elite customers only by appointment. It’s a limited market, but this kind of specialization can give businesses a certain sort of cachet and expertise that simply can’t be matched by online stores.