The U.S. Commerce Department, which typically is the first organization to project sales for the year ahead through publication of the U.S. Industry and Trade Outlook '99, expects book sales to rise to $24 billion in 1999, an increase of 2% in constant 1998 dollars, or a 4.3% gain in actual dollars.

The government sees improvement occurring in all the major publishing segments. Higher enrollments, a stable adoption schedule and improved funding for school and public libraries should help boost sales of textbook and other education-related materials, the study predicts. Adult and children's book sales should benefit from growth in the population as well as increased disposable income. The government also expects a 7% gain in exports in 1999, led by improved sales to Canada and the European Union, which will offset continued softness in book demand from Asian countries.

The Commerce Department's five-year outlook for book publishing is a bit mixed. It anticipates that book revenues will grow at a compound annual average inflated-adjusted rate of 2%. According to the Outlook, segments in which sales are likely to exceed the projected 2% growth rate include the religious, college, professional and school categories.

According to the study, religious book sales are projected to register a strong showing through 2003 as more Americans search for a life with spiritual meaning. Increased sales of college texts should result from higher enrollments and more materials and coursepacks tailored for individual classrooms, while elhi sales are forecast to benefit from higher enrollments and higher funding. The study also reports that growth in occupational specialties at the scientific, technical and professional levels, combined with more funds for libraries and institutions, should improve the market for professional titles.

Categories expected to fall below the 2% growth rate include adult and children's trade titles, mass market paperbacks and reference books. The study notes that the expanding number of superstores has encouraged the publication of more titles but has not demonstrated the ability to raise overall market demand. In addition, lower sales through independent bookstores do not appear to be totally compensated for by the increase in superstores.

Children's book sales are expected to be hampered by a slowing birth rate, while increased competition from electronic media is predicted to limit sales of reference books over the next five years. The heavy discounting of bestselling hardcover books is expected to shrink the market for paperbacks through 2003.