From the first-ever books like the Epic of Gilgamesh – a tale on political reverence, the jikji- a collection of Zen teachings in the 14th century, and the Gutenberg Bible a century later, books have provided a crucial medium for centuries for civilizations to share their stories. But have books run their course marking the death of the industry?
The book industry is not dying. While there has been a steady rise in digital forms of reading adoption, there has been growth in the production and sale of print books over the last two decades, indicating that this industry is still healthy and profitable.
This article will explore the performance of the book industry in detail. It will also investigate the relationship between print and digital publishing and the trends in both formats. For those looking to learn more about the state of the book industry, this offers an interesting read.
Before accepting the premise that the book industry is dying, consider the questions below, which will guide this discussion.
- What are the trends in the sale of books subject to changes in technology?
- Is there a cannibalistic relationship between print and digital publishing?
- How does the current state of bookstores impact the sale of books?
- How has the value of the book industry changed over time?
A good indicator of the health or lack thereof of the book industry is the number of books sold annually. These sales figures and trends counter the mounting speculation about the imminent death of the book industry as follows:
- Data on book sales in the United States between 2004 and 2021 shows an upward trend. Book sales grew steadily from 2004 to 2008, followed by a slight decline between 2009 to 2012.
- A period of steady growth succeeded this decline from 2012 onwards, peaking in 2021.
This chart shows Statista’s data on US book sales from 2004 to 2021:
As evident from the table above, 825.75 million printed books were sold in 2021, indicating a vibrant and flourishing book industry. According to Statista, 2005 to 2010 witnessed a boom in book sales, with more than 700 million books on average in annual sales. This is hardly a hallmark of an industry in decline.
Based on the above table, therefore, it is clear that the book industry has so far stood up to the challenges presented by the technological explosion.
Available research backs the premise that ebooks have grown rapidly and caused a hit to bookstores and traditional publishing. According to OEDb.org, ebooks captured a $3.2 billion share of the bookselling market. Statista’s data backs this position, showing a projected rise in the ebooks’ sales to 17.03 billion in 2022.
Increased ebook adoption, especially among young people, is often associated with a decline in print books. The above data at a glance, for instance, indicates that digital ebooks are taking a significant share of bookselling from traditional print, mainly due to the added convenience they provide. However, this relationship is not as linear as it seems.
The experts at OEDb.org concede that ebooks have hurt conventional book stores. This notwithstanding, they opine that increased ebook adoption has not had a statistically significant impact on the sale of print books. As aptly summarized in the Digital Society, digital and print versions both have their place in the market.
Accordingly, both formats remain profitable. This suggests that digital publishing has not had a cannibalistic effect on print publishing.
The rapid closure of bookstores in the 2010s, coupled with the growth of online stores, could explain the negative public sentiment about the state of the book industry. A 2017 article published in the New York Times argues that bookstores have been long in decline. This article projects that e-commerce growth will phase out American bookstores.
Questions abound on whether the above indicates that the book industry is dying. The answer is no. The decline of bookstores does not automatically relate to decreased book sales, as I will explain below.
While the collapse of long-standing bookstores such as Book World speaks volumes of the state of bookstores in the United States, Mathew Duket – a book sales associate in the West Bend, Wis., store – explains that although bookstores are on the decline, books are not. According to OEDb, Americans still read many books, especially judging from the billions in sales generated by the industry every year. There is more.
A recent survey in the UK found that people read more books during the lockdown, with more than 200 million print books sold in the UK alone in the year 2020. This shows that the industry continues to thrive, despite concerns about its state.
The print book industry is worth billions of dollars. According to Forbes, the sale of print books in the United States grew by 67.8 million in 2021. Print books still occupy the dominant portion of books sales across all formats, boasting a 65% share. Based on available data, the industry generated net revenue of more than $25 billion in 2020.
With annual book sales rising every year, there is little evidence that the book industry is dying. With an increasing proportion of book sales now taking place over the internet on sites such as Amazon, it has become more accessible and more convenient for Americans to purchase their books.
It is arguable that while some speculate that rapid technological expansion will drive digitization and lead to the death of the book industry, this industry has successfully leveraged technology to drive growth.
Based on available data, it is evident that the book industry is not dying. Contrary to popular belief, it is clear from this article that the industry has enjoyed steady growth over the last two decades. As ebooks and audiobooks continue to capture a small but significant market share, the future may witness a decline or even death in the print book industry. However, the book industry is thriving presently, not dying.
- Statista: Unit sales of printed books in the United States from 2004 to 2021
- Statista: U.S. book industry – statistics & facts
- Medium: Is the Publishing Industry Dead in the Digital Era?
- Ooligan Press: Why the Publishing Industry is Thriving (Not Dying)
- OEDb: 12 Stats on the State of Bookstores in America Today
- Statista: eBooks
- The New York Times: Bookstore Chains, Long in Decline, Are Undergoing a Final Shakeout
- Publishers Weekly: Book World to Close All 45 Stores Across the Midwest
- The Guardian: Research finds reading books has surged in lockdown
- The Guardian: Book sales defy pandemic to hit eight-year high
- Forbes: Sales Are Up Nearly 9% For Print Books—But Who’s Reading Them?