Used Book Study: A New Approach to Understanding the Market

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At a September 28 press conference in New York City, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) offered a preview of its new study on used book sales, reporting that used books are one of the fastest growing segments of the industry, driven by large increases in online sales and characterized by positive purchasing experiences for consumers.

Among the key findings:

In 2004, there were $2.2 billion in used book sales, which was an 11.1 percent growth over 2003. Used book sales now comprise 8.4 percent of total consumer spending on books.

However, college textbooks make up the lion's share of these sales. Last year, the educational market for used books was $1.6 billion, 28 percent of the total college textbook market. For used trade books, the market in 2004 was $589 million, only 2.8 percent of the total non-educational categories. However, sales in the non-education market were up 25 percent from 2003.

The fastest growing component of the used book market is online sales, which saw a 33.3 percent revenue growth in 2004, reaching $609 million. In contrast, sales in used-book stores and new-book stores saw only 4.6 percent growth, with sales of $1.57 billion. Used book sales in all other locations were $46 million -- 19 million units -- a 1 percent growth over 2003. Used book sales at non-college bookstores are flat to declining, according to InfoTrends/CAP Ventures, which conducted the study for BISG.

In the bricks-and-mortar bookstore channel, the study noted that approximately 65 percent of independent bookstores (including Christian stores) sell used books. These bookstores reported that roughly 20 percent of their book unit sales were used books. Of those sales, almost 40 percent were fiction titles, and 56.7 percent of all used book sales were paperbacks and 43.3 percent were hardcovers. In those bookstores, 48.3 percent of used books sold were titles that were still in print, with 51.7 percent being out of print. And for these stores, over 80 percent of used book sales were in-store sales. For nonstudents, two of 10 titles purchased from these bookstores were used books. The number of nonstudents who only buy used books was just 2.4 percent.

Given the rate of growth among used book sales and the increasing prominence of offers for used titles on such sites as, some consumer responses pointed to continued bullish growth. Among nonstudents, over 60 percent of the consumers reported that they purchased a used fiction, children's, or nonfiction title even though a new edition of that title was available. In addition, 73 percent reported that they would recommend purchasing a used book to a friend. Further, almost 44 percent of the consumers had sold a used book, with almost 35 percent of them selling the title online.

The study was based on analysis of sales data from the leading online booksellers and primary research with over 500 booksellers and 2,000 consumers and students. The key resource and data partners in the report -- which will be published in November -- were ABA, Abebooks, Alibris, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Biblio, Book Hunter Press, Bowker, eBay, Monument Information Resources, and Powells. --Dan Cullen

Watch BTW for further coverage of the BISG report.