Guest Column: Minding the Store
The independents weren’t alone in feeling the heat. When reviewing Barnes & Noble’s and Borders’ statements and SEC filings over the years, you get the usual “Harry Potter Year/Non-Harry Potter Year” blather, but when looking at the comparable store sales figures for “Harry Potter” releases, a disturbing picture emerges. Though each book is bigger than the last, the highs for the bookstore chains don’t seem to get much better, and the lows seem to get worse.
Something is seriously wrong with the consumer book business if bookstores of all sizes are struggling even when they have so many great books to sell. We do ourselves a disservice by not asking why.
Changing Customers, Changing Channels
If there’s one thing publishers need to understand, it is that most book buyers are disengaged and only purchase one to five books a year. (Simmons Market Research Bureau’s national consumer survey has shown this time and again.) This means there is a massive number of adults out there who read intermittently and probably don’t care about loyalty programs, author Web sites or three-for-the-price-of-two sales.
It’s also important to remember that Barnes & Noble and Borders Group have, for years now, been shuttering more physical store locations than they have been opening. Most of the closed locations are Waldenbooks or B. Dalton stores, but underperforming superstores do close as well: Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Borders Group closed more than 500 locations in the past six years.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart and Target locations (as well as other non-bookstore entities) have been multiplying: Wal-Mart and Target alone have opened more than 1,200 domestic locations, according to the companies’ annual reports. On a very basic level, these stores are a lot more convenient for the disengaged consumer who only buys a book once in a while.