Bookselling Industry Overview

Last Updated: March 4, 2024

Photo by Ugur Akdemir on Unsplash

Key Takeaways 

Social media can put indies on the map.

Bookstores are benefiting from social media trends, whether through renewed interest in reading inspired by #BookTok or through hopping on the latest trend themselves (Maldonado, 2023).

Customer loyalty is a key to success.

Larger booksellers like Indigo in Canada or Barnes and Noble in the US rely on customer loyalty programs to gain valuable insights into their customer base while encouraging them to return with perks like promotional discounts or points–but this isn’t the only way to do it. Independent sellers can consider smaller-scale initiatives to build and retain loyalty, like author signings or in-store curations that are unique to their customers’ preferences (Maldonado, 2023).

Independent bookstores continue to face steep competition from larger retailers.

A strong connection to the local community can help bring customers through the doors when large retailers–especially Amazon–slash prices to entice customers (Maldonado, 2023).

Industry Performance Snapshot 

  • The Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for bookstores in Canada has dropped 4.2% since 2018 (Maldonado, 2023). 
  • Budget 2021 provided temporary support for booksellers in Canada, contingent on booksellers’ sales history of Canadian-authored books. Funding was intended to help build out an online sales platform and strategy (Canada Book Fund, 2023). 
  • Book sales in Canada have generated over 1 billion Canadian dollars in revenue each year since 2017, though total revenue continues to fluctuate (Booknet Canada, 2023). 


Source: BookNet Canada (2023, March)

Industry Outlook

  • Success for the bookstore industry is contingent on consumers’ disposable income and leisure time, which has been in flux since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (Maldonado, 2023). 
  • Rising paper costs are driving up the cost of books–but bookstores must decide if increasing the cost for customers is a risk they’re willing to take in a market with steep competition (Maldonado, 2023). 
  • The CAGR for bookstores is projected to fall by another 1.2% in the next five years (Maldonado, 2023). 

Business Locations 

Vancouver is a hub for booksellers–69.9% of all BC-based bookstores are located in the city (Maldonado, 2023). 

Industry Trends and Challenges

#BookTok makes reading a collective experience: TikTok users around the world are sharing their favourite books–and it’s revitalizing the bookselling industry. Print books have seen a surge in sales thanks to TikTok, where the hashtag unites readers and inspires dialogue about titles new and old (Feger, 2022). 

The “indie” advantage: Independent bookstores (or indies) may face fierce competition against competitors like Amazon, but their connection to the community keeps their doors open. Indies can create an experience unique to their store, like collections or staff expertise that align with community needs and can’t be paralleled by larger-format retailers who must cater to a wider audience (Alsharif, 2023). 

E-commerce can make shopping more accessible–but it comes at a cost: Opening your ‘virtual doors’ might increase sales, but it also requires expertise and upfront costs that a small business may not have the capacity or budget for. While platforms like are carving out a path that makes e-commerce more accessible to indies (Spanoudi, 2023Rosen, 2022), booksellers should carefully weigh their options before tapping into an online market. 

Generative AI is rewriting the bookseller’s script: Like many industries, generative AI poses both an opportunity and a threat to bookstores. One online bookstore is using the popular ChatGPT to personalize the shopping experience (Mottl, 2023) which may offer a blueprint for other indies trying to optimize online conversions. Meanwhile, bookstores need to keep a careful eye on their inventory to ensure that they aren’t selling books written by AI–a trend posing challenges to the broader publishing industry (Bookstores - Quarterly Update 9/6/2023, 2023).


  • Beattie, J. (2023, April 27). Indie bookstores redefine reader's retail shopping experience - and become part of the community. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from Canadian Newsstream database.
  • BookNet Canada. (2023, March). Number of books sold in Canada from 2013 to 2022 (in million units) [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved from Statista database.
  • “Bookstores - Quarterly Update 9/6/2023.” (2023). Mergent. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Collection.
  • “Business matters: hits 3m profit for indie bookshops, as it pledges to increase online indie sales by 5x times in 5 years.” (2023). Newstex. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Collection.
  • Canadian Heritage. (2023, March 30). Grants and Funding: Canada Book Fund. Government of Canada. Retrieved from:
  • Feger, A. (2022, July 27). Behind Booktok’s popularity. eMarketer. Retrieved from eMarketer database.
  • Maldonado, C. (2023, June). Book Stores in Canada: Industry Report 45131CA. IBISWorld. Retrieved from IBISWorld Industry Reports.
  • Mottl, J. (2023). Bookseller taps ChatGPT for personalized customer experience. Newstex. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Collection.
  • Rosen, J. (2022, April 19). The Changing World of Bookselling. Publisher's Weekly. Retrieved from…

Add new comment