The two reports measure different aspects of the book market and one is far more comprehensive than the other, but figures released last week by Nielsen BookScan and the Association of American Publishers showed a trade market where e-books are thriving and print books are struggling.

Sales figures from the roughly 20 publishers that report monthly sales to the AAP showed print sales in the five trade segments—adult hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, children's/YA hardcover and children's/YA paperback—falling a total of 25% in the first two months of 2011, to $441.7 million, while e-book sales from 16 publishers jumped 169.4%, to $164.1 million. Print sales in all five trade segments fell in the two months. E-book sales were virtually tied with trade paperback at $164 million as the largest trade segment in the two-month period at the houses that report to AAP.

While the AAP monthly report only measures a slice of sales in the trade market, Nielsen BookScan captures about 75% of unit sales through the different retail and online sales channels. But like AAP, BookScan's figures found print declining; according to BookScan, print units in the first quarter fell 9.0%, to just over 162 million.

The steepest decline among the major trade segments was in the adult fiction category, where units were off by 18.3%. Adult fiction is the strongest segment for e-book sales and, according to Bowker's PubTrack Consumer Service, accounted for 61% of e-book sales in 2010. The print nonfiction segment, where e-book sales are less robust, had only a modest sales dip in the quarter, with units off 1.1%. BookScan also found pronounced drops in both juvenile categories. While Stephenie Meyer sales were still something of a factor in the first quarter of 2010 and could partially explain the 8.1% decline in fiction, the nonfiction segment had a larger decline in the quarter, 11.7%. Tight budgets in schools and libraries are likely one reason for the drop.

By format, mass market paperback sales continued to struggle in the first quarter, and units fell by an alarming 26.6%, according to BookScan (and sales were down 36% in the AAP statistics). The format has been hurt by diminishing shelf space and its loss as the lowest price book option to e-books. Hardcover units fell at a slightly faster rate than trade paperback. Somewhat surprisingly, audiobooks fared the best among all formats, with units off only 5.3%. Despite growth of digital downloads (up 18.4% in the two months, according to AAP), CD sales appear to be benefiting from improved car sales, as automobiles remain the favored place to listen to audiobook CDs.

The decline in print sales comes before the full impact of the downsizing of Borders is felt, although its bankruptcy is likely affecting the AAP sales report and BookScan data in different ways. Although Borders operated fewer stores in the first quarter of 2011 than 2010, the effect of closing 226 superstores will not be felt until the second and third quarters when the liquidation sales are completed, and BookScan has been collecting unit sales in the liquidating stores. The AAP numbers, however, are likely feeling a more immediate impact from the Chapter 11 filing. Most of the publishers that report to AAP did not ship many titles to Borders in the first two months of the year and Borders has not paid the major houses in full since December. In addition, the liquidation sales are siphoning away sales from Borders's nearby competitors. One mid-size publisher said it was clear to him that, in the quarter, consumers were buying more books than usual at Borders at the expense of Barnes & Noble and independents. The brisk liquidation sales are providing no immediate benefits to publishers, however, since proceeds from the sales are subject to the Chapter 11 proceedings.

Unit Print Sales, First Quarter 2010–2011

2010 2011 % Change
Total* 177,979,000 162,018,000 -9.0%
Subject Group
Adult Nonfiction 69,311,000 68,537,000 -1.1
Adult Fiction 50,032,000 40,850,000 -18.3
Juvenile Nonfiction 9,417,000 8,318,000 -11.7
Juvenile Fiction 35,846,000 32,943,000 -8.1
Audio 1,418,000 1,343,000 -5.3
Hardcover 39,436,000 36,599,000 -7.2
Mass Market Paperback 30,691,000 22,511,000 -26.6
Trade Paperback 96,562,000 90,757,000 -6.4

* Total includes maps, calendars, and other items not included in segment reports. Nielsen BookScan covers approximately 75% of retail sales. Wal-Mart/Sam's Club are not included.