SIC 5942 Book Stores


SIC 5942

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in the retail sale of new books and magazines. Establishments primarily engaged in the retail sale of used books are classified in SIC 5932: Used Merchandise Stores.



Book Stores


The retail bookstore industry was dominated by several large chains, including Borders Group, Inc.; Barnes and Noble, Inc.; and Books-A-Million. The rest of the market was shared by about 10,000 independent bookstores. Chain stores, many of which opened during the 1970s, were generally located in shopping malls and usually carried between 15,000 and 20,000 of the most popular titles targeted for a broad consumer market. Independent bookstores often carried a greater variety of titles, between 30,000 and 40,000 per store. With 900,000 books in print, independent bookstores often specialized, offering a wider variety of titles than the chain stores for niche markets such as religion, science and technology, hobbies, or children's books.

Booksellers struggled during the first years of the twenty-first century along with the entire U.S. economy. Revenues rebounded each year from 2002 to 2005, but the industry continued to face numerous obstacles in a challenging economy. While the big chains continually shuffled resources to get the most from their assets, thousands of independent booksellers struggled to hold back the onslaught of the bookstore giants.


In the 1990s, chain store operators began opening dozens of "superstores," which dominated the industry in the mid-2000s. These large freestanding bookstores carried between 50,000 and 150,000 titles, offered substantial discounts, and provided a variety of customer amenities such as reading rooms and coffee bars. Superstores prompted speculation that independent booksellers would be driven out of business. However, other industry analysts noted that there were similar dire predictions in the 1970s during the rapid growth of mall-based chain stores. While chain stores did siphon business from the independent bookstores, they also greatly expanded the total market. In fact, market research showed that the presence of a superstore increased the local market for books by 50 to 60 percent.

Multimedia stores that carried books, audiotapes, videotapes, and computer programs also began appearing in the early 1990s. While other bookstores had sections devoted to electronic information media, multimedia stores mixed different media by category rather than by format, placing the printed works of Shakespeare alongside videocassettes of his plays. WGBH Learningsmith stores in Massachusetts were leaders in the area of multimedia bookstores. The company licensed the use of "WGBH" from the award-winning public television station in Boston.

Virtual bookstores also gained popularity in the mid-1990s, due to the possibility of online commerce offered by the Internet. Of these,, was by far the most popular and most successful, offering more than one million titles.


The first bookstores appeared in the American colonies as early as 1640, with Boston becoming a pre-Revolutionary War center for both book publishing and selling. By the time Benjamin Harris, who published the first newspaper in the colonies, opened a bookstore in 1686, there were already seven other booksellers in Boston. By 1700, there were as many as 30 booksellers in the town, which then had a population of about 10,000. Although a fire swept through the bookseller district in 1711, destroying all but one bookstore, within a few years there were even more bookstores in Boston.

In addition to importing books from England, most early booksellers also published them. For example, Hezekiah Usher, who may have opened the first bookstore in Boston in 1642, published Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes in Either England, the famous catechism by Puritan minister John Cotton, in 1656. Bookseller and newspaper editor Benjamin Harris published the first edition of the New England Primer. In fact, book selling as a profession independent of publishing did not begin to emerge until about 1800.

Early bookstores were also more like variety stores than bookstores in the modern sense. For example, Andrew Bradford offered his customers merchandise ranging from feathers to pickled sturgeon. Thomas Fleet, a publisher of children's books in Boston, sold slaves from his bookstore. Moreover, colonial bookstores often carried a remarkable variety of books. In 1766, Boston shop owner John Mein published a catalogue listing more than 1,700 titles. Religion and philosophy dominated the early book trade. The widespread availability of books by John Locke and other philosophers who wrote about natural rights helped set the stage for the American Revolution and booksellers were often among the intellectual leaders of the colonies. However, novels were also popular, including many with highly suggestive titles such as Married Libertine and Suspicious Lovers. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, originally published in England in 1748 and better known as Fanny Hill, also was available in many bookstores.

The first post-Revolutionary War advancement in book selling came in the 1840s, when an American, Richard Hoe, invented the rotary press. The first Hoe presses were able to print 8,000 sheets an hour, and later increased to 20,000. This technology made possible a mass market for books. It also hastened the differentiation between publisher and bookseller and greatly increased competition. The technology led to the creation of the paperback industry. The first paperbacks were pirated reprints of English novels printed as supplements to newspapers. Eventually they were sold as separate publications.

Bookstores flourished between 1845 and the beginning of the Civil War. However, book selling began to change dramatically about the time the war ended. In the late 1860s, most large publishers were operating their own bookstores in competition with independent booksellers. In addition, publishers began offering volume discounts to large dry goods stores that opened book departments. Volume discounts eventually cut bookstores out of the textbook trade altogether and remained an issue of contention between publishers and bookstores into the early 2000s, especially with the development of chain stores in the 1970s.

Perhaps even more significantly, in the years following the Civil War publishers' agents began crossing the country selling books door-to-door by subscription, taking prepublication orders for delivery direct to the customers. Publishers often sold books directly for less than they sold them to bookstores and even offered to pay for postage. In 1872, Publishers Weekly warned that "The retail book trade cannot live against the competition of manufacturers and either the competition or the retailers must cease to be." John Wanamaker, whose legendary Philadelphia department store was able to undercut bookstores, flatly declared "book selling is a decaying business."

Book Sellers vs Publishers

The first attempt to organize American booksellers occurred in 1802, when 50 publishers and booksellers met in Philadelphia to form the American Company of Booksellers. That association lasted only four years. In 1872, publishers and booksellers again joined forces and formed the American Book Trade Association (ABTA). This time they agreed to limit wholesale discounts to no more than 20 percent. However, the public viewed the ABTA as a cartel organized to keep prices high, and newspapers attacked the plan vehemently. Many publishers also failed to live up to the agreement, and the ABTA only lasted five years. In 1890, the publishers formed their own association aimed at forcing bookstores to sell books at a retail price set by the publisher. The publishers agreed that they would continue offering discounts, but they also agreed to blackball stores that violated the "net price" system.

In 1900, six booksellers announced plans to form the American Booksellers Association (ABA) to lobby on behalf of bookstores. The ABA, which held its first convention in 1901, wholeheartedly endorsed the publishers' net price system, since it would eliminate price-cutting by department stores and so-called "book butchers," who bought...

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