While the traditional bookstores chains struggled over the holidays, the new and used book chain Half Price Books reported that December sales rose 12%, fueled by a 10% same-store sales increase and an 8% increase in the number of transactions. Store traffic was also up, reported executive v-p Kathy Doyle Thomas, which she attributed in part to the store's low prices and eclectic offerings. "We offer affordable reading and something a little different," Thomas said.

She said books packaged with cassettes, CDs and other media products sold well over the holidays, as did used hardcover titles and inexpensive children's books that could be used as stocking stuffers. And although sales of nonbook items such as spoken-word audio continue to grow, 90% of the chain's inventory remains new and used books. Half Price limits its Web sales to gift cards, which rose 38% in December. The chain abandoned online sales about four years ago, but is now testing new approaches, Thomas said.

The strong December capped a solid 2006, in which sales reached approximately $149 million. Half Price opened three stores in the year, giving it a total of 91 outlets, and plans to open nine more this year. Doyle said Half Price has closed only one store in the 17 years she has been with the company.