Growth of Industry
Record Year Followed by Sluggish Sales
Book publishing is one of the most visible, influential and varied industries in the United States. It is made up of giant corporations with billion-dollar balance sheets as well as “Mom and Pop” businesses that turn out one or two books a year. More than 50,000 titles, covering nearly every conceivable topic, are published annually. Elementary, high school and college texts gross about $2.5 billion a year for their publishers, while libraries purchase hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of books.
The storehouse of knowledge contained in the more than 600,000 books in print in the United States—as well as in the incalculable number of out-of-print titles—is an essential part of the fabric of society. Books spread ideas and information, stir imaginations and provide entertainment. Yet, as the figures indicate, book publishing is a big business, and the clash between business goals and cultural objectives is a continuing conflict for authors, publishers and booksellers.
The industry is made up of more than 15,000 publishers whose books are divided into five broad categories: (1) trade books, (2) textbooks, (3) technical, scientific and professional books, (4) religious books and (5) reference books. With the exception of reference books, the industry had a good year in 1984. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, book publishers' sales added up to a record $9.4 billion in 1984, an increase of 5.1 percent over 1983. A record 2.27 billion books were sold at the retail level, bringing in nearly $12.9 billion last year, a 7.2 percent increase over 1983, according to the Center for Book Research. Profits “grew rapidly in 1984, helped by low inventory levels, a tight rein on costs, and reduced rates of inflation,” the Commerce Department reported.