Shelf Awareness reports that Barnes & Noble may close up to 20% of its retail stores over the next decade. It’s worth it, if you have the time and have access, to dig into the longer Wall Street Journal piece on which the report is based.
by Josh Trapani
Shelf Awareness reports that Barnes & Noble may close up to 20% of its retail stores over the next decade. It’s worth it, if you have the time and have access, to dig into the longer Wall Street Journal piece on which the report is based. B&N turns over a certain number of stores each year, but recently closures have stepped up and openings have ground to a halt.
It’s difficult to disentangle all the factors involved in this. In part it’s the growing e-book market (and B&N’s Nook has not been a profitable competitor of the Kindle thus far), in part it’s that Amazon is eating B&N’s lunch in both the print and e-book markets, and in part it reflects larger trends: the poor economy, the lack of new shopping mall developments to house B&N stores, perhaps even (though I don’t have data for this) fewer people reading.
By the time the WSJ article ends, it becomes evident that 20% is just a wild guess based largely on predictions of how fast the e-book market will continue to grow. With the rates of change we’ve been seeing in online technologies and trends lately, that estimate is probably highly suspect, and quite likely low.
At the same time, B&N may be its own worst enemy in some ways. From the comments on the WSJ story:
<>”buyers are using B&N brick and mortars to browse for books, then going on the internet and ordering digital or hardcopy version through lower priced resellers.”
<>”just yesterday I was in a Barnes and Noble store and the book I wanted was $25.95 however I could order it from them on their web site, with free shipping for $16.01 because I am a member, however could not purchase directly at the store for that price. I ended up ordering it.”
B&N, of course, is not a small book store like Politics & Prose or Parnassus Books, and doesn’t have the same feel. Neither was Borders. Or B. Dalton (which was part of B&N).
What kind of business model, if any, is viable for such stores over the long term? With trends changing so fast, is it even possible to plot a course to a successful business model?
What would the demise, or at least the serious reduction, of chain brick-and-mortar stores mean for readers? Do consumers who care about books have some obligation to stop using those stores as libraries and start treating them like stores? (Though I’ve avoided e-readers to this point, I’m as guilty as anyone of browsing at B&N and buying at Amazon. I also used to enjoy browsing music at Tower Records, and now it’s gone and I’m – like everyone else – content to get my music from iTunes.)
I’ve got no answers to these questions, but I’d like to know what you think.