Bookstore sales rose 2.5% in 2016 over 2015, hitting just under $12 billion, according to preliminary estimates released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau. The increase was the second year in a row that bookstore sales rose after seven years of decline. (The census figures include revenue from all retailers “primarily engaged” in selling new books, which includes outlets other than indie and chain stores. The preliminary figures are also usually revised by the government).

The gain for the full year came despite the lack of many big hits (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was last year’s top print seller) and distractions caused by the presidential election. Indeed, bookstore sales were up 6.1% in the first half of 2016 but softened as the year, and the election, wore on. A hoped-for post-election sales bounce did not materialize. Bookstore sales in December were down 3.1% compared to a year ago.

Though bookstore sales last year were down 2.3% compared to 2012, the recent trend line is positive. The rate of sales declines peaked in 2012 and the 2.5% increase posted in 2016 followed a 3.2% gain in 2015.

Bookstore sales 2012–2016

($ in millions)

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Sales $12,269 $11,501 $11,320 $11,683 $11,981
Year-to-year Change -8.9% -6.3% -1.6% 3.2% 2.5%