Skip to main content

Print is Doing So Great at Surviving eBooks That Print Sales Fell 3% in Canada in 2017

Print has survived the rise of ebooks, they say. Consumers aren’t abandoning print for digital, pundits say in articles that are now read more online than in print.

And yet somehow print sales are down in Canada, according to BookNet Canada. They put out a press release this morning with the news that print sales in Canada fell 3% in value and 4% in volume.

Print is doing so well that consumers are buying less of it. Or at least that data from a limited subset of retailers is saying; we don’t know that it is accurate until there is independent confirmation (and Data Guy is too busy to get on this soon).

press release

Print book sales in the Canadian trade market fell in 2017, dropping by 4% in units sold and 3% in value sold compared to 2016. This is according to sales from a subset of retailers who report consistently to BookNet Canada’s sales tracking service, BNC SalesData, and so can be used to track year-over-year changes in the print market. SalesData does not track the sale of ebooks, digital audiobooks, or used books, any of which could have an impact on declines seen in the print market.

Overall, Canadian book buyers purchased 51.5 million print books for just over $1 billion in 2017. Of these, 40% were Juvenile (including Young Adult), 32% were Non-Fiction, and 26% were Fiction, which shows minor gains for Juvenile at the expense of the other two categories since 2016, when the breakdown was 38%, 33%, and 27%, respectively.

Though Juvenile as a category once again reigned supreme, the five bestselling print books of the year were adult titles. Looking at unit sales in SalesData, which tracks 85% of the print market in Canada, the top seller of the year was the trade paperback edition of the self-help juggernaut The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, followed by The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur, Origin by Dan Brown, The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, and Milk and Honey also by Kaur. In 2016, the Poetry category saw a 79% spike in sales that was largely due to Milk and Honey, and the debut has continued to see strong sales in 2017. In the Juvenile category, the top seller for 2017 was The Getaway by Jeff Kinney, which was released in early November, followed by Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Dog Man Unleashed by Dav Pilkey.

It’s interesting to note that two of the top five books — The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Milk and Honey — are both backlist titles, having been published in September 2016 and October 2015, respectively. The edition of Wonder that came in second among Juvenile books is also an older title; the trade hardcover came out in February 2012. Sales of that title, of course, were likely buoyed by the film adaptation starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay that was released in November. In 2017, 60% of all print book sales were for backlist books, which is up by 2% over 2016.

More information on 2017 book sales, broken out by category, will be released later this winter in our annual report, The Canadian Book Market 2017. Further information on sales trends, format breakdowns, reading behaviour, and more can be found at


image by archer10

Similar Articles


gbm January 15, 2018 um 11:27 am

When I see a drop is sales I am not looking at the value but the units.

The same with stocks if the stock paid no dividend then it had no return on investment even thorough the price per share may have doubled in value.

Disgusting Dude January 15, 2018 um 12:56 pm

Not a good equivalence.
Looking at unit sales is good, especially when higher unit prices are used to mask declining sales.
But plenty of booming businesses pay no dividends. Generally it is stagnant or mature companies that rely on dividends to prop up the stock.
Exhibit #1: B&N – they’re in a decade long death spiral of declining sales and declining market share. Even tradpub apologists now expect they will eventually hit bankruptcy court. And one of the reasons is they are reportedly tapping their lines of credit to prop up stock price with dividends. They are slowly milking the company’s value by turning equity into debt. Eventually there will be no value left and no dividends. Just a trip to bankruptcy court.

Randy Lea January 15, 2018 um 2:13 pm

Units are important, as well as price. You don’t know everything about price, based on unit sales, but you do get an average selling price.

In a market with flat or falling sales, one might expect sellers to fight like crazy to reduce cost in order to lower the sales price and attract more buyers, without killing their margin.

When the big publishers raised ebook prices, sales were pretty much flat, indicating a loss in unit sales. With ebook cost pretty much zero, one would think that publishers price books to maximize sales in dollars. If you price a book too high, or too low, that doesn’t happen. My guess is that pricing a book below $4.99 for most books, not the very most popular ones, would generate a bit more in sales, but less profit. The gross margin on an ebook today I’d imagine is incredibly high.

Why are publishers setting such high prices on ebooks? Are they trying to keep ebook sales low in order to protect themselves from Amazon, at the expense of profit? Are they playing some accounting game where they are paying production costs for all books, print and ebook, from ebook sales? I have no idea, but I’d love to find out.

Richard Adin January 16, 2018 um 3:37 am

The decline in print sales is not indicative of a corresponding rise in ebook sales. If there are fewer readers or more library users, print sales will decline. If the cost of a print book is such that it requires spending a higher percentage of one’s income, people make a choice. But lower print sales do not necessarily mean the rise of ebooks. Even if the number of ebooks sold is rising, it is not necessarily an indicator of a decline in print. To know if one is falling because of the rise the other, you would have to interview the buyers, not look at raw numbers. The proclamation articles amount to "fake news" because they compare apples to oranges.

Xavier Basora January 16, 2018 um 4:20 am


The problem is that the English language books are always more expensive compared to the American one. This has been investigated on and off by the Competitions bureau but nothing’s come of it. French books are even more expensive.

However, as a Canadian customer I do my best to avoid buying physical books precisely due to the prices. I don’t see why I should prop up the bookstores that sell books that don’t really interest me and is such a hassle to order
For English books I shop around. French books it’s a bit harder as the Europeans really suffer from paper fetish and the Quebec ebook prices are too high for a digital product
They regard ebooks fake content that only encourage 'piracy'.

Mackay Bell January 16, 2018 um 5:19 am

Hey! I got an idea! Why don’t they try pushing adult coloring books? Surely that will save print!

Write a Comment