Online booksellers could become the largest channel for book sales by 2009, a new survey of consumer book-buying habits found. The online survey of 2,924 adults showed that chain bookstores maintained their market share lead in 2007 and should again be the top destination for book buying in 2008, but, if trends hold, the online segment will surpass bricks-and-mortar stores next year.

“If this growth of buying from online booksellers continues, they will be the book sales leaders in 2009,” said Gary Gabelhouse, CEO of Fairfield Research, which conducted the survey. Measured by units, chain stores accounted for 34% of book purchases in 2007; that figure, based on consumers' buying plans for 2008, is projected to fall to 32.5% this year. The percentage of books purchased online jumped from 23% in 2006 to 30% in 2007 and is projected to inch up to 30.5% in 2008. The Fairfield figures are the highest yet released regarding the Internet's overall market share of book purchases.

Online's growth does not appear to be coming at the expense of independent booksellers. According to the survey, independents' market share is relatively flat, dipping to 8% in 2007 from 9% in 2006, but expected to rise slightly, to 8.7%, this year. The purchase of used books through used bookstores, thrift stores, garage sales and other outlets is projected to account for 9.3% of purchases this year; the figure does not include used books purchased online.

One segment of Internet buying that is projected to decrease in 2008 is purchases made directly from publishers' Web sites, which the survey found will fall from 3% to just under 2%. Gabelhouse speculated that deeper discounts offered by most online retailers, compared to publishers' sites, draw consumers to the e-tailers.