With a struggling economy and competition for time from other media, 23 million fewer books were sold last year than in 2002, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Book Industry Study Group, a non-for-profit research organization.
Sales fell to 2.222 billion books, down from 2.245 billion in 2002. The decline was in both hardcovers and paperbacks, in children's books and general trade releases. Even sales of religious titles, often cited as a growing part of the publishing industry, were flat.
"We believe this is due to a variety of factors, the biggest being the used book market," said Albert N. Greco, an industry consultant and a professor of business at the graduate school of Fordham University.
"People are looking for bargains, especially in college textbooks, where we believe millions of used books are being bought. Also, books are competing with magazines, cable, radio, music and movies."
Thanks to higher prices, net revenues did rise to $27.8 billion in 2003, a 2.5 percent increase. They are projected to reach $33.5 billion in 2008.
But the 2003 figures show a continued trend of increasing production and declining demand. More than 100,000 books were published last year, yet fewer people were buying them. Sales dropped despite such high-profile releases as "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the memoirs of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Dan Brown's religious thriller, "The Da Vinci Code."
"One book cannot make you," Greco said. "You have to look at how many books are not selling well. There's a parallel to Hollywood, where a lot of movies flop."
The Book Industry Study Group's report, titled "Book Industry Trends 2004," includes several downbeat assessments from publishing officials. Bob Miller, president of Hyperion, declares that "the pie we're all looking to share is not growing," and "flat is the new up."
Barbara Marcus, publisher of Scholastic Children's Book Group, which releases the Potter books in the United States, said she was disappointed by the impact of J.K. Rowling's fantasy series on the overall market.
"People thought Harry might have changed kids' reading habits," she said. "It's happened to a small degree, but not to the level we've hoped."