Although online retailers have been making deep inroads in the bookselling market, the major bookstore chains sold more units than their e-tailing competitors last year, according to Bowker's newly released "2009 Book Consumer Annual Review: U.S. Demographics & Buying Behaviors." The chains accounted for 27% of unit sales in 2009, while the e-commerce segment represented 21% of units sold. Reflecting the fragmentation of the bookselling marketplace, the only other channel to have at least a 10% share of the market was book clubs, which had an 11% share. The bookstore chains' leadership position was more pronounced when sales are measured in dollars, with the chains grabbing 37% of dollar volume, while e-tailers, which discount heavily, taking 19% of dollars spent.

The study found Barnes & Noble to be the largest seller of print titles, with a 15% share of units purchased compared to 13% for Amazon and 10% for Borders. And although it sells only a fraction of the titles available at B&N, Borders, and Amazon, Wal-Mart accounted for 6% of unit purchases in 2009, with nearly half of those books coming in the fiction category.

Adult fiction was the largest of the major categories in 2009, generating 40% of units sold, although only 28% of the dollar volume due in part to the large number of fiction books that are sold as low-priced mass market paperbacks. While academic/professional books and STM titles represented 13% and 3% of units sold, respectively, their high prices increased both segments' share of dollar volume by eight percentage points. Among the trade segments, young adult (boosted by Stephenie Meyer) and general fiction were the two largest subgenres, accounting for 8% of unit sales each last year. Romance and thriller/espionage each had a 6% share of units.

Amazon's announcement last month that in the second quarter it sold more e-books than hardcovers placed the spotlight on industry sales by format. According to Bowker, paperbacks (both trade and mass market) accounted for 59% of units sold in 2009, while hardcovers represented 36% of units. E-books accounted for only 1.7% of unit volume in the year and a little more than 2% of dollars. In the first quarter of 2010, e-book sales were about 2.5% of units, and Bowker found more e-book buyers using e-tailers to buy both their print and digital titles. In the first quarter of 2009, 37% of e-book buyers bought print books online, a figure that rose to 55% in the first period of 2010.

In a demographic breakdown of book buyers, education was the key trait that separated who buys books from those who don't. Eighty-one percent of both unit sales and dollar volume in 2009 came from consumers who had at least some college education. Women, of course, bought more books than men last year, but women did not dominate all age groups. In the Matures age bracket—readers born before 1948, men accounted for 48% of units and 54% of dollars spent, while in the Baby Boomer group (born between 1948 and 1966), men also accounted for 54% of dollar volume, although their unit market share was only 43%.

Examining why consumers buy books, the study found topic/subject and author to be the two most important motivating factors, although there was a distinct difference between fiction and nonfiction. The author was the single most important reason consumers chose a novel, while subject was the top buying factor for nonfiction titles. The author finished below "browsing through a book" as a reason for buying a nonfiction work. The most common way consumers became aware of a title in 2009 was at a store through an in-store display, with recommendation the second most popular.

The complete report, which is based on responses from 43,000 online survey responses, is available in both print and PDF versions starting at $999. For more information, contact James Howitt at