Costco is switching up how it sells books. What it means for shoppers. (2024)

  • Costco plans to stop regularly selling books throughout the year starting in January.
  • The decision is meant to ease labor for Costco staff.
  • The shift is a symbolic blow to an industry that has already taken a hit from rising costs and lagging print sales.

The large stack of books in the middle of your nearest Costco may not be around much longer.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that Costco plans to stop regularly selling books year-round starting in January 2025, citing four anonymous publishing executives. Instead, the wholesale retailer will consistently sell books only during the last four months of the year, when holiday shopping picks up.

Costco representatives did not respond to requests for comment, but a publishing company confirmed the company's decision to USA TODAY.

Costco may not be the country's largest bookseller – Publishers Weekly editor-at-large Jim Milliot estimates that the retailer along with other big-box stores like Target make up just 4% of book sales – but the shift is a symbolic blow to an industry that has already been struggling to keep up with rising operating costs.

“It was sort of a point of pride within the industry, that books are not just elitist, books had a really solid mass market play,” publishing industry analyst and author Thad McIlroy said. “It really meant a lot to the industry that Costco was a strong outlet, and to have it turned into just Christmas gifts, that’s not a good thing.”

Costco is switching up how it sells books. What it means for shoppers. (1)

What does this mean for Costco members?

Costco's decision stems from the amount of labor required to stock books. Each title has to be unboxed and stacked by hand, whereas other products are simply rolled out on pallets.The company had already stopped selling books in its Hawaii and Alaska warehouses in 2022.

While Costco's book selection is limited, it has been a convenient way for shoppers to pick up their next beach read or check out a new cookbook while running errands. Now, there will be one less exposure point to books – a “big deal” for consumers, according to McIlroy.

“(Some people are) just not bookstore people. They don't buy books on Amazon. So I think there's a significant group of people who find their reading enjoyment via Costco, and that's going to be much diminished,” he said.

Pennie Clark Ianniciello, who worked as Costco's book buyer for 32 years before leaving the company in 2021, made a post on LinkedIn noting she was saddened to hear the news, but Costco "needs to make changes for their own business needs" and the publishing industry will find new ways to sell and promote their publishing lists.

"I do hope true book readers will find a new independent bookstore and others who used to 'cruise' the book selection will once again check other retailers and libraries for their literary treasures," she said in her post. "It will be unsettling for a time and uncomfortable adjustments will be made. I too, will be making new shopping plans for my books."

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'It's a really tough time to be a publisher'

Costco's decision comes as U.S. print book sales dwindle. The industry’s print volume hit 767 million last year, down 3% from 2022, according to a February report from market research company Circana.

The firm notes that increased household debt could further tighten consumer spending, especially on higher-priced titles after the holiday season.

“It’s a really tough time to be a publisher, regardless of your size,” McIlroy said. “So having something like this kick you in the face when you're down is not a good thing.”

Costco is switching up how it sells books. What it means for shoppers. (3)

While certain titles see a good chunk of their sales from Costco members, the company's decision means little for the average author, according to publishing industry analyst Jane Friedman.

“Costco typically sold books and authors that were already wildly successful,” she said in an emailed statement. “If you're a bestselling author or a big publishing house, this isn't welcome news, but it's not going to change how publishing decisions get made. No one acquires books thinking ‘This is a Costco book!’ It's more like icing on the cake.”

McIlroy agreed that it'll likely be a specific subset of authors and publishers who “are really going to feel some pain.”

The Key Points at the top of this article were created with the assistance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and reviewed by a journalist before publication. No other parts of the article were generated using AI. Learn more.

Costco is switching up how it sells books. What it means for shoppers. (2024)


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