Book Export Chart 2009The global nature of the 2009 recession is reflected in the book export and import figures recently released by the U.S. Commerce Department, which show that the pace of international trade slowed considerably last year. With the U.S. in a deep recession, the number of books imported into the U.S. declined steeply, falling 21.1%, to $1.72 billion. Imports are of both books manufactured abroad by American publishers and those from international publishers. Demand for American books in foreign markets softened as well, with exports declining 9.1%, to $1.99 billion.

Exports to all of America's largest book-trading partners fell last year, with double-digit declines in shipments to the U.K., Australia, Japan, India, China, Brazil, and South Africa. Bright spots in 2009 were Hong Kong and the Middle East, where the commitment by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to bring more English-language books into their countries resulted in a 10.2% and 23.0% increase, respectively. The increase in exports to those two countries was due entirely to a jump in textbook exports, which jumped 43% to the UAE and 130% to Saudi Arabia.

Total textbook exports, however, fell 7.1%, to $476.6 million, with shipments to the U.K., the second largest destination for textbooks, off 37.2%. Exports to the largest textbook market, Canada, were flat at $109 million. Exports of professional books also declined in the year, falling 13.7%, to $434.9 million. Big declines in shipments to Canada and Japan were somewhat offset by a 63.6% increase in exports to Mexico, with professional book exports hitting $23.1 million. The trade segments, in something of a surprise given the recession, fared better than the educational and professional categories. Hardcover shipments rose 5.2%, to $203.1 million, with exports to Canada, by far the largest market for hardcovers, increasing 11.2%, to $160.2 million. Hardcover exports to second-place U.K. rose 17.6%, to $12.5 million. Mass market paperback exports jumped 13.1%, to $307.4 million, driven by an 85.4% rise in shipments to the U.K., where exports reached $43.1 million. Mass market paperback exports to Canada increased 7.1%, to $158.7 million.

In terms of imports, shipments were down from all major partners; it's not until reaching India, the 13th largest source of imports, that imports rose in the year 18.7%, to $19.2 million. Imports from China fell 11.8%, to $711.4 million, and dropped 19.7% from Canada, to $247.5 million. Imports fell 32.4% from the U.K., 18.8% from Singapore, and 29.2% from Hong Kong.