Bookstore sales tumbled 30.7% in August compared to one year ago, according to preliminary estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales fell to $754 million compared to $1.09 billion in August 2019.
The steep August drop put an end to a brief rally during which the rate of decline in bookstore sales had been slowing. In July, bookstore sales fell 24.6% compared to July 2019, an improvement over the 35% decline in June compared to 2019. The 30.7% drop in bookstore sales was also in marked contrast with the entire retail segment, which reported overall flat sales in August compared to a year ago.
The poor August sales performance was likely due to weakness in sales at college stores as well as continued softness at trade stores. With most colleges holding hybrid instruction and relying more on digital instructional materials, sales through physical stores have suffered. Barnes & Noble Education, for example, reported that sales in its retail segment in its second quarter were down 42%. While that quarter ended August 1, B&NE did not indicate it was expecting a marked improvement soon.
Bookstore sales through the first eight months of 2020 were down 31.4% from the comparable period in 2019. Sales were just under $4 billion in the most recent period, down from $5.72 billion in the January-August period in 2019. Sales for all of retail fell 1.7%.