Books — The Paper Kind — Make a Comeback This Holiday Season

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Rick Bowmer / AP

Bookstores are experiencing a surprisingly good holiday shopping season.

Bookstores seem to be doing surprisingly well this year, but those sales might not be sustainable.

The New York Times is reporting that booksellers around the country are seeing spikes in retail sales from last year – and it’s not just in digital books and e-readers.

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Sales of good ol’ books — you know, those bound things with printed pages — are actually up. The American Booksellers Association, which tracks independent bookstores (which often don’t sell e-books and tablets) reported a 16% sales increase over last year during Thanksgiving week.

Barnes & Noble is also reporting gains, with sales over the Thanksgiving weekend increasing by 10.9% from the same period last year, although it’s unclear if book sales were also driving those figures. Either way, the sales numbers have taken many book retailers and analysts by surprise

For the last several years, with the success of tablets and e-readers like the iPad and the Amazon Kindle, many analysts projected a continued decline in books sales, and for bookstores generally. But even in far-flung stores like Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, Wisc., and R.J. Julia in Madison, Conn., sales have increased by double digit percentages recently.

The holiday spike may reflect this year’s partial lifting of economic gloominess. Or it may be a side effect of the closing of the Borders bookstore chain. It’s the first holiday shopping season without the massive bookseller, which filed for bankruptcy in February of last year and closed hundreds of stores.

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But sales also seem to have been helped by a number of well-received books this year, including Steve Jobs (by former TIME Magazine Managing Editor Walter Isaacson); 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami; and The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Holiday shoppers also just seem to be growing sick of frugality. Credit card debt is on the rise. In any case, booksellers aren’t convinced that the current pace of book sales is sustainable. In fact, some think it might last just a few more weeks.

“I’m worried about January,” Next Chapter Bookshop’s owner Lanora Hurley told the Times. “Everybody’s going to open their electronic device for Christmas.”

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