Unit sales of print books fell in every region of the country in 2012, with the largest declines coming along the coasts. With units off a total of about 9% in outlets tracked by Nielsen BookScan last year compared to 2011, sales in the Northeast and Pacific regions both posted declines of 13%. The Middle Atlantic and Mountain states had the second largest declines, with units drop-ping 11% in both areas. The smallest unit losses occurred in the South Central region, with sales down 2%.
Despite the 13% decline, the Pacific region still sold the most print books in 2012—over 121 million units. The South Atlantic, which includes states from Delaware to Florida, along with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, was a close second, selling just under 120 million units last year, followed by the Middle Atlantic with 95.5 million units sold. The West North Central section of the country sold the fewest books—40.5 million copies at outlets followed by BookScan.
Book buyers in cities and suburbs cut back on their print purchases more than those living in rural areas, something that was to be expected given that declines were heaviest in the more populated West Coast and Northeast/Middle Atlantic areas. Units were off 11% in cities last year and 10% in the suburbs, while unit sales in rural sections dropped 6%. The declines in print purchases did not necessarily come in areas with high concentrations of e-book buyers. While 13% of total e-book buyers were located in the Pacific region, according to Book Industry Study Group’s most recent volume in its “Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading” study, only 4% of e-book buyers were in New England/Northeast, even though both sections reported a 13% drop in print units. There was a closer parallel to whether books were bought in a city, suburb, or rural area, as the BISG study found that rural residents, who reduced their print purchases the least, were also the least likely to read e-books.
The BookScan data also shows that frontlist (or current) print units fell 8% across the country last year, slightly lower than the 10% decline posted by backlist units.