Trade Book Sales Up 6% In 1998: BISG Report
John F. Baker -- 8/23/99

Survey shows first gains after years of decline, predicts bullish prospects for next three years

Sales of trade books rose in 1998 for the first time in four years, posting a rise of 6% that far surpassed the projection of 1.6%, according to the recently released Book Industry Study Group's Book Industry Trends 1999 study.

The improvement was led by trade paperbacks, which advanced 10.3%; even the hardcover segment, which had been struggling for years, rose 3.3%. Mass market also did well, with a 5.6% increase in 1998 that surpassed BISG's projection of 3.2%, probably, said the report, because of the recent stabilization of the ID market. The report noted that nonfiction titles were beginning to show up as mass market bestsellers, citing such examples as the new Dr. Atkins diet book and Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air.

In children's books, the gains were also notable and better than projected, with sales up 8% against an estimate of 5.9%. Here paperbacks were the leaders. Sales in both hardcover and paperback were boosted by the sale of movie or TV tie-ins such as Rugrats and Teletubbies.

Mail order continued to decline, with sales falling 8.2% in 1998 due to the spread of superstores and the rise of online retailing. In the book club market, which rose 5.8%, the chief players, Doubleday Direct and Book of the Month Club, have prospered so far by stressing their ability to preselect titles, though BISG noted that also now recommends new books based on a customer's past selections.

BISG predicted expenditures on all books (professional and textbooks included) of $38.1 billion by 2003, up from an estimated $22.6 billion in sales in 1993. Its estimates and projections for 1998, 1999 and 2000 were $28.7 billion, $30.5 billion and $32.2 billion, respectively, indicating three years of steady growth.

The rise of online bookselling was one of the more dramatic aspects of the year gone by. PW's John Mutter noted in an article in the report that online book sales rose 300% during 1998 to an estimated $650 million (about $610 million by alone). According to Mutter, some publishers now report that as much as 15% -- 20% of their sales are through the Web. Meanwhile, sales growth at the chain superstores has been slowing down.

In his commentary, PW's Jim Milliot described 1998 as a year of major consolidations, with the value of the top 15 acquisitions in the year amounting to more than $11 billion. Most of the major consolidations in the year were in the professional publishing segment. Pearson's $4.6 billion purchase of Simon & Schuster's educational, professional and reference divisions, leaving S&S purely a trade publisher, was the biggest. A planned purchase of Ingram Book Co. by Barnes & Noble was blocked in 1999 by opposition from the SEC.