A slump in the second half of 2017 led a decline in bookstore sales in 2017 compared to 2016. According to preliminary estimates released Wednesday morning by the U.S. Census Bureau, bookstore sales dropped 3.6% last year compared to 2016. Sales in 2017 were $10.73 billion, down from $11.14 billion in 2016.

After rising in the first part of 2017 over 2016, bookstore sales ended 2017 on a five-month losing streak, capped by a very soft December. Sales in the last month of 2017 were $1.18 billion compared to $1.29 billion in December 2016. The weak end to 2017 mirrors to some degree the experience of Barnes & Noble which reported a 6.4% decline in sales in the nine week period ended December 31, 2107 compared to the same period a year ago.

The sales decline in 2017 came after bookstore sales rose in 2016 over 2015, the first annual increase in eight years. (The Census Bureau's preliminary estimates for 2015 showed a sales increase over 2014, but revised figures showed sales declined in 2015 compared to 2014. The Census Bureau will release revised sales figures later this year which could change the sales comparison between 2016 and 2017.)

For the entire retail sector, sales rose 4.2% in 2017 over 2016.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated.