Bookstore ECommerce Sales Trends

Recent Bookstore ECommerce Sales Trends

Consumer sentiment about buying online from their local bookstore radically shifted post COVID. We are still feeling the ramifications of what occurred over the past four years. Some major points to consider are:

  • Sales have indeed declined since the $110,000,000 peak that IndieCommerce stores experienced in 2020. When people are locked down in their homes and the government gives them money to spend, they are going to spend it online. 
  • The pandemic was a historical event that changed how people shop. As fear of COVID lessened and consumers emerged from their homes and normalcy returned, it was inevitable that online sales would decline from the peaks that we experienced during the lockdown.
  • Online sales are still significantly higher than IndieCommerce stores were experiencing in pre-COVID 2020. The sales increase that we’ve just witnessed during the first quarter of 2024 may indicate that a new sales plateau is forming.
  • COVID has passed, but customers are still shopping online in record numbers and 2024 may be the start of the new normal for bookselling online.


Online Book Sales in 2023 and 2024

In recent conversations I’ve had with both large and small independent bookstores with websites, I’ve heard that some stores had experienced online sales numbers that were lower than their projections for 2023. Today we’ll take a look at what actually happened in 2023 and what online sales looked like in the first quarter of 2024.

To investigate this further, I’ve aggregated sales data from websites on IndieCommerce 1.0, 2.0 and IndieLite. In addition to those numbers I also asked Andy Hunter at about what he has been seeing on their platform. He was very helpful and contributed additional aggregate sales data from the 2000+ bookstores hosted on their platform.

The information below is based on aggregate gross online sales data for all of the websites on the IndieCommerce platform during the first quarter of the indicated years. 


a table showing sales data for the last 3 years


Sales results for the first quarter of 2024

  • With over 2000 online bookstores hosted on their platform, had first quarter 2024 aggregate sales that were up by 6% compared to the same period in 2023. In comparison the 513 websites currently hosted on IndieCommerce 1.0, 2.0 and IndieLite in the first quarter of 2024 had aggregate online sales that were up by 11% compared to the first quarter of 2023. However, if you look at the average gross sales per store on the IndieCommerce platform for the first quarter of 2024, they were up 15% vs the same period in 2023.

    This trending increase in combined sales across over 2500 online bookstores in the first quarter of 2024 is significant since it represents so many independent bookstores across 4 different ecommerce platforms.

Purchases of Non-Essentials Declined in 2023

  • and IndieCommerce both reported a gross sales decline across their platforms in 2023 vs 2022. This was probably due to significant economic uncertainty experienced by consumers during this period. In a February 2023 survey conducted by PWC, 69% of respondents said that they were going to cut back on non-essential purchases.    

Even with the drop in online sales that occurred in the first quarter of 2023, the average aggregate gross sales on IndieCommerce 1.0, 2.0 and Indielite platforms are still 62.5% ahead of where they were in Pre-COVID 2019. This trend is not limited to just IndieCommerce sites. Publishers Weekly reported that despite a 2.6% drop in print unit sales for books in 2023 (online and in-store) “we’re still 10% ahead of the last pre-pandemic year in 2019” (PW).

The combined sample of IndieCommerce 1.0, 2.0, IndieLite and websites represents over 2500 bookstores. This diverse sample however still appears to reflect similar trends in online sales. The 2023 data supports that online sales did indeed drop compared to 2022. It also shows that online sales in the first quarter of 2024 appear to be bouncing back significantly from the 2023 decline.