Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, January 28, 2013

Barnes & Noble Plans to Close a Third of Its Stores

E-book growth may be slowing, but that doesn't appear to be making a dent in the viability of large chain bookstores.

Barnes & Noble reportedly plans to close a third of its stores over the next decade (link is to CNET, I work there proudly). That amounts to 20 stores closing a year over the next 10 years.

I've written in the past about how I found it likely that chain bookstores would go the way of record stores into obsolescence, even as smaller, independent bookstores still plug on into the new era. This development is a reminder that it won't take 100% e-book adoption to threaten the viability of brick and mortar stores.

And these closures could further speed the adoption of e-books as people lose their bookstores and are forced to find their books elsewhere.

The publishing landscape is going to continue to shift very dramatically over the next decade. What do you make of this news? Are you ready for the new era?

Art: The Bibliophilist's Haunt or Creech's Bookshop by William Fettes Douglas


Stephsco said...

It's already happening; the closest bookstores to me, in a heavily populated Chicago surburban area, are in the next city over, and are two blocks apart (one indie and one B&N). With the closing of Borders and conosolidation of other B&Ns, these are it for about a 20 mile radius, with exception of a half price books. It's strange not being able to run over to the shopping area nearest me for some books. I have to plan ahead to make a trip to stores in a busy downtown area, or order online. I basically started using the library more, which also requires planning, but it's closer to my house and saves me money.

Brendan O'Meara said...

Yeah, I'm ready, but I'm lukewarm if the B&N closures are good or bad for books.

I wonder if the Indies will be able to pick up the slack, or if the B&N closures are symbolic of what will happen to the Indies.

I'm lucky, I've got three amazing Indie bookstores around me in Upstate New York (The Book House in Albany, the Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady, and Northshire Bookstore in nearby Manchester, VT).

I also own a Kindle and, as a Prime member, I get to borrow some ebooks, but (important for me) also cut down on the clutter on my book shelves. (Did I really need to own "Commencement"? Thus the beauty of ebooks.

Good writing will always persevere, the way we inject it into our bodies will always change. It's just like Jacob said, "It only ends once, everything else is just progress."

True story.

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

It's not just bookstores. I buy a huge amount of stuff online because it's easier and I get a better selection. Why do you think Amazon offers Prime for only $80/year? It's because once you have it, every time you need something, you look on Amazon first. Why not buy that $5 cat toy or $20 pair or earrings or $12 book online? It won't cost anything (extra) for the shipping, and you don't have to drive to a store, hunt for a parking space, and carry your purchase to the car. Instead the UPS guy will bring it to your door in 2 days. Whoever thought this marketing model up was a genius. Or possibly a drug pusher.

Jaimie said...

Sad. I know I'm supposed to support indie bookstores, but I do love me some Barnes & Noble.

CourtneyC said...

I got a gift card for B&N for Christmas and made a list (from Amazon and Goodreads) of books I wanted. Once in the store, it was hard to locate the books I wanted since I didn't note the genre. I ended up asking for help from staff. She looked up my books on her computer and only 3 of 10 were currently in stock. She asked me if I wanted her to order them for me, but why would I? I can order them myself (on Amazon).

I don't think ebooks are the downfall of brick and mortar bookstores, I think my experience above highlights what is a better digital experience...easily finding, previewing, and buying books in my PJs.

I tend to buy ebooks if I don't want to KEEP the book (like books I'd typically get from the library). Books I know I want, I tend to buy and keep in a collection. Textbooks don't work on a digital format. It's just too hard to highlight, find what you want, navigate where you want to go, get to a page 15 pages back, see a diagram and navigate back quickly, etc.

If B&N asked *me* what I think it would take for brick-n-morter stores to survive, I'd say they should have some bank of store computers for customers to look up the books, and easy way to then find them. Color code the store if they have to. And, give me some kind of an incentive to order a non-stocked book from that store rather than online.

Beth said...

I had a bad experience at a Barnes &Noble. I blogged it before I left as I told store management I would then I emailed the corporate office, linking to the blog. I received a template letter that did not use my names saying they would look at my suggestions. I think things like this have more to do with why B&N is having problems than ebooks.

Stephen Parrish said...

The growth is slowing, but 48% annual growth is a dream for any business, and a fantasy for most. That rate, despite falling short of previous growth rates, seems plenty high enough to shutter some more book stores.

birdinabowler said...

I think websites like will become more popular. Sure I can order books electronically or online, but that means I won't be making impulse buys because of a shiny cover on the front table of the bookstore. So I'm going to read more of the books that are recommended to me by my friends, and the main place I look is on goodreads.

eBooks are brilliant. I'm not surprised they are more popular. I don't want brick and mortar stores to completely disappear, but I'm ok if almost all of my books (like 95% of them) are electronic.

Michelle Roberts said...

Luckily, libraries are still going strong. 99% of the time I will read the first book (or two) of a series from the library. Then if I love it I'll buy the series (usually online for my Kindle). I will definitely miss bookstores, though, if they all go extinct. Browsing is one of my favorite ways to discover books. And what author doesn't want to go the the bookstore and see their book on the shelves?

V. N. said...

I have an e-reader, and I like it, but it will never replace the feel of an actual book in my hands. Thus, I am saddened by these closures even if I don't ever go to B&N because I'm from Canada. And being from Quebec, it's even difficult to find English language books. The closest bookstore is maybe 20 minutes away, but they don't usually sell English books. Wal-Mart sells books, but only the best-sellers for English books. So, I have to go a long ways away either to downtown Montreal where they have a Chapters and an Indigo a few blocks away from each other, or go all the way to the West Island for the other Chapters. There's a small Indigo about a half hour away in Laval, recently opened, and I am so glad for it. Saves me gas and time. I do buy books online, but only from Chapters because Amazon, though I love them, tend to use courier services and not the post. And courier services, at least a certain one I shall not mention, always gives me trouble and either never delivers my packages, or after long ranty discussion on the phone with them, will throw my packages onto my porch. I have only bought maybe two e-books since I got my e-reader about a year ago. Anyway, to summarize, I prefer going to actual book stores, even if they are a long ways away. It makes it more special and the thrill of finding a book all on your own without reading reviews and it turning out to be the best book evah is something Amazon can't do for you. :)

Doug said...

I think it shows some wisdom by B&N's Retail leadership. In the US, big-box stores are losing ground pretty much across the board. Bookstores don't have an exemption.

It's not just e-books. It's online sales of paper books: Amazon, and (they could only hope), and the like. The big bookstores are, with some exceptions, doomed in the long run. B&N will need to be vigilant for stores that are no longer assets, and close them down quickly.

"Going to the store" is a relatively recent idea, an outgrowth of suburban living and the automobile-mediated lifestyle. Now we're replacing the automobile with the 'Net for a lot of shopping needs. We're going back to getting goods delivered, like they were in the days when the Sears, Roebuck catalog was king.

Sam Mills said...

Aw man. I am lucky to have an indie Fantasy/Scifi/Mystery genre bookstore down the block from my house (and they are successful enough to have opened a second location! good for them!!). I was already shopping there more because B&N didn't have the selection of genre fiction I wanted, plus they do a ton of author signings and other fun events. And if my indie doesn't have what I'm looking for, Amazon sure does.

But what I DO love B&N for are gift items. I love the bargain books (it's the only time I don't feel guilty buying all that fancy coffee table nonfiction that I won't actually read cover-to-cover) and the book-themed merchandise, which I always hit up for my tougher family members during the holidays.

And I think that is the big difference for me: the indies cater to customers who buy a LOT of fiction, run out of big list items, and are now looking for the more hidden gems. The big chain caters to customers who only buy a few big authors a year, plus Christmas shopping. It was sustainable as long as people didn't have a lot of holiday alternatives, but now they do.

Mrs. Silverstein said...

Oh, this makes me so sad! I love my Kindle, and I also love indies (glad to see someone else shout out Schenectady's excellent The Open Door, and here in Buffalo I have the awesome Talking Leaves). I'm not an extremist in any one direction. But I will never forget the first time I went to Barnes and Noble. I was six or seven, and the only bookstore I had been was the dinky mall bookstore. Seeing a freestanding, two-story, ENORMOUS bookstore blew my mind--and on top of that, there was a whole window display devoted to horse books (my favorites at the time.) It might as well have been Disneyworld. I'll definitely be really upset if B&N actually goes under. Hopefully they'll figure out a way to change with the times!

Anonymous said...

I used to work for B&N in the midwest. We were normally meeting or exceeding what corporate goals were set for us. The reason we did so was because we didn't listen to the corporate office's suggestions on what would sell in our market. We listened to our customers.

My beef with B&N is that they look for the biggest bottom line they can get(what business doesn't?!?!). However, they sacrifice customer service.

Brick & mortar bookstores are disappearing because of large companies like B&N either buying them out, or flat out running them out of the area, and then forcing their cusotmers to choose ineffective selling techniques. The stores that thrive are the ones without much competition.

I think it's sad that brick & mortar bookstores are slowly disappearing. I love the idea of electronic books, but there is something about holding actual text in your hands.

Robin Coyle said...

I haven't been in a Barnes and Noble for YEARS, but coincidentally was in one TODAY! How weird is the timing of getting your blog post?

Lori said...

As a new published author, I had my first book signing at Barnes and Noble in Gilroy. There were a lot of people and my sales were fantastic. The consumers expressed their love for physical books, so this is heartbreaking for me. I don't know what we can do as authors to stop the closing of a large book store. I guess the best is to stay current on the development of publishers as well. How will this effect the literary agents and publishers? Thanks for your always keeping us abreast of the writing world.

Anonymous said...

It's bad.

If we want to maximize readers, then the best thing is to have the maximum number of outlets and formats. Brick-and-mortar, online, print, ebook, audio, new, used: everything. Not sacrifice one kind for the sake of any of the others.

B&N is not being forced into anything. They're actively choosing to reduce the number of print books they carry and are trying to steer people toward the Nook (the Nook counter is front and center at every B&N, taking up prime retail space). They also are carrying more non-book merchandise. I'm sure their plan to close the stores is coupled with their expectation of increasing Nook sales. We'll see if that business plan works for them. I predict it won't, but it would be nice to see Amazon continue to have some competition.

Book shopping isn't just about buying words to read. For many people, browsing and shopping are recreational activities. That's one reason bookstores have chairs and cafes. If bookstores survive, it will be because of that social, stay-and-read-awhile atmosphere. I like shopping in my pajamas too, but I also like leaving the house every once in a while!

Cathy said...

Amazon is a monster.

I love Amazon, and use it all the time, but it's clobbering the competition--more especially the big chains than local businesses. But for all of us it's a force to be reckoned with.

There are still people who love physical books, and they're not real fond of Barnes & Noble. I work at an indie book store, and we're doing fine, mostly because we now sell a lot of other things besides books. at our store at least, books have been holding steady for the past couple years, after a steep decline for a decade and more.

For us, selling books is more like a service than a way to make money. Beyond lagging sales, there's the fact that book prices are printed on the cover. On other items, we multiply our cost by some number between two and three, depending on a bunch of variables. But with books, we're stuck charging something along the lines of 1.5 times the cover price.

Though we prefer to order from a regular wholesaler, sometimes we end up ordering from Amazon ourselves. The price is often the same as what the distributor gives us, and because I have Prime we get free shipping. Plus they have everything, plus they're fast.

I'd miss physical bookstores if they disappeared entirely, but I don't see that happening. I'm not mourning Barnes & Noble.

Marilynn Byerly said...

The biggest problem B&N or any bookstore has is that books have such a low profit margin. The last figure I saw was 3-5%. That's pretty dang small, and it's not getting any bigger while the cost of floor space, insurance, energy, etc., keeps rising.

Compare that to furniture which has a profit margin of between 500% to 1000%, and furniture stores are dying even faster than bookstores.

Not a good outlook for bookstores, is it?

The reason that bookstores are filled with novelty items, aka not books, is because these items have very high profit margins so they are bolstering the bottom lines and keeping bookstores alive. The next time you see a game or a gadget at B&N, don't cuss it, because it's helping keeping books in stock.

Laurie said...

I buy 90% of my books as electronic books off Amazon, based on reviews and recommendations from friends. Although, I must admit, I do love browsing in a book store when I have time. But that time is dwindling, and now I pretty much go into a brick-and-mortar bookstore about once a year -- at Christmas. Then it becomes a whole glorious experience!

I wonder if bookstores will become temporary kiosks at Christmas time, like calendar shops or Hickory Farms? Or they can temporarily take over the buildings vacated by Halloween Costume shops come Nov. 1?

Things like cookbooks or coffee table books might have to be carried in other kinds of establishments -- cookbooks in Williams-Sonoma, fashion books in Abercrombie, novelty books in Urban Outfitters (as they do now), etc. Those are the types of books that seem like they'd suffer most from the lack of "browsers."

thewriteedge said...

Wow. I just spoke at a local writer's conference in Avondale, AZ, this past November where a few literary agents were also invited to speak, and one of them made a prediction that B&N would go the way of Borders by 2016 or so. So this news feels a little eerie, to say the least. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the months and years to come.

Magdalena Munro said...

This is a timely post as I (true true) wept this weekend at the absence of any physical bookstores for me to visit over the weekend. My desire to visit bookstores stirred because of a lovely Winter rain that fell over Los Angeles. My memories from undergrad and grad school are permeated with me visiting bookstores when the weather was bad and this weekend I was determined NOT to purchase a book on Amazon and to actually buy the Barry Unsworth novel, The Quality of Mercy. What a stupid idea. When the realization hit me that there were exactly two Barnes and Nobles within 10 miles and only one smallish used book store, I sat in my car and cried (the onslaught of tears stemmed from me calling all three and being told that not one carried the book). I'm not exactly sure why I cried but it might have been a feeling of pity that my son may never experience the luxury of spending a rainy Saturday fingering the pages of books in a bookstore. Granted, B&N and the mega bookstores have never been my true cup of team, but they were at least something, which is better than nothing. I called my husband (still crying) and he told me that it may be a good thing and that perhaps the smaller bookstores we both cherish will in fact one day return. Sadly, I did have to make that purchase on (but made sure I chose a vendor that was a bonafide bookstore!). Here's to moving forward but not forgetting the value of experience. One can say the experience of downloading a book is grand, however, there is NOTHING in this world like standing next to a stranger in the philosophy aisle of a bookstore as you both look at similar titles...knowing that this physical person most likely has something in common with you and feeling a kinship with your fellow human reader. I rarely feel that when I download or purchase a book online, even when I read reviews. Thanks as always for your blogs Nathan!

Anonymous said...

B&N is "Fully Committed" to Retail

Mira said...

Good post, Nathan.

I think the underlying context here is that B&N plans to focus on building its digital market.

It's sad. I have very fond feelings for B&N stores. I remember when they came on the scene. I know they are given a hard time for putting some independents out of business, but I remember that they also revitalized the book industry. They made books so much more accessible.

I was just driving by the big storefront near my house that used to be a B&N, and it felt so sad - I loved that store. I studied there, and browsed and read for hours.

Nonetheless, this is the reality. And I think CEO was pretty optimistic saying it would only close 1/3 of its stores over the next decade. I suspect it will go much faster than that. It will snowball.

Because I think your point is well-said. At some point, consumers will lose their choice - they will have to go with the prevailing technology - in this case e-books.

And your other point is also well-said - that the closure of bookstores will most likely hasten the adoption of e-books...which will hasten the closure of the big stores, and so on. A snowball.

Bethany Valles said...

I love my Nook for it's storage and the fact that it fits inside my purse. But what I love about bookstores is the opportunity to communicate face to face with a person. Not just the clerk behind a counter, but the other people browsing the same section. I love the banter between fellow book lovers. There's a sense of community, even in a large chain store like B&N, that will never be replaced. Comment sections on blogs or dueling reviewers on Amazon are just not the same thing.

Lee J Tyler said...

Could this be some consolidation to free up cash for the Microsoft partnership with Barnes & Noble? I know the Microsoft side of that deal wanted to emphasize ebook testbooks as that is a steady and profitable market. Or has the deal gone sideways?

Anonymous said...

Yvette Carol said:...

I will miss brick and mortar stores.
E-books are great, they don't take up space, don't fill my bags, etc. In fact, it's almost like they're not there at all. That's why I find my "ownership" of e-books less than satisfying, because I can't touch them, they're not ever really mine.

Jessica Schley said...

Of course the irony of all this is that on my blog, I'd already chosen to blog about the power of handselling today, before all this doom and gloom about my employer hit.

But the things I could see brick-and-mortar bookstores leveraging are POD and overnight shipping. In my opinion (mind you, as a humble digital sales rep and not a manager of any kind) is that B&N could throw some money into ensuring that books from the warehouse end up on the truck en-route to the stores the same day. Like a few people have noted, the difficulty is that a physical store just *can't* stock every single book. But imagine if you could call the store during the day on Tuesday, and the book would be there on Wednesday? Or imagine you could walk into the store and use the Opus book machine to print the book you need for school tomorrow?

These are the things bricks and mortar stores need to think about. The places where we beat the pants off of Amazon are handselling and being able to hand a physical book to the customer *right now.* This is what B&N needs to think about leveraging.

Anonymous said...

One thing people tend to miss is that BN have several hundred College stores (most aren't branded as BN) which do very well, and have vigorously pursued the e-book model of late. (See the BN Superstore at State/Jackson in Chicago, which is the DePaul University Bookstore for an example of one of their large college stores.)

I think the closure of some BN stores will be an initial boon for the independents.

Amazon is negotiating over paying tax to the states, because it can then build fulfillment centers in every state allowing for easy same day delivery to the customer. I predict in 5 years Amazon Prime will be offering same day delivery for a small fee (they offer on some items now in Chicago although at a larger cost). This will likely deliver a deathblow to further retailers including some independents.

There will still be successful bookstores which are mostly independent, they will be the community focused businesses involving a great deal more than books. They have to be a destination.

(I've worked in large corporate bookstores on both sides of the Atlantic, and currently run my own online bookstore, overall about a decade of bookselling experience)

Tapper said...

I refuse to say my good-byes to book stores. I cannot imagine a world where I couldn't take my children by the hand and pick up books until we find just the right one. Millions of people like me won't accept that our recreational shopping is confined to clothes, sporting goods and home goods. We will demand books. Lots of them. With real pages and great covers and little cafes and the sound of parents sitting down to read with their little ones. We want to look one arm chair over and see someone engrossed in 1984 and see the person across from us thumbing through the history of Latin dancing. Of course we want ebooks, but shopping for a book is an experience unlike shopping for anything else and there is a huge market for it. Don't count reading consumers out just yet. If B&N drops the ball, someone will pick it up.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Recent activity (which I'll explain some day when it's time) has led me to believe that while you are likely 100% right about this in the U.S., we (writers) tend to forget that there are other markets for our books, and other places where readers still clamor for print copies of others' thoughts and creation--perhaps out of economic necessity.

While ebooks are inexpensive to both produce and acquire, there is an entire wireless infrustructure in the U.S. that makes it possible that doesn't exist everywhere.

In addition, some countries that have less reliable power generation as well as lower average standards of living may not be filled with people walking around with Kindles or other ebook readers, or even the latest iPhone or iPad--as the cost of them might be greater in comparison to their livelihoods than in the U.S.

So. While I agree the brick-and-mortar stores may be threatened (more the major chains, I venture to guess, than smaller stores with far less overhead/investment) by the ebook advances in the U.S., I submit rumors of the death of the printed "book" have been greatly exaggerated by cultural and geo-centrism...:)

Bryan Russell said...

I'm pretty sure Amazon has a giant Cheshire-Cat grin right now. They'll happily absorb B&N's lost sales, and they probably don't care whether it's in ebooks or paper books.

Sheila Cull said...

No. For environmental reasons, I desperately tried to go digital. A curl up and read simply isn't the same, for me, with anything less than a "real" book.

Don't you agree that another factor to consider with the proliferation of closing book stores, is the ease of ordering "real" books, say, via Amazon?

Doug said...

Comments like, "I do love browsing in a book store when I have time," and, "the luxury of spending a rainy Saturday fingering the pages of books in a bookstore," which don't include any mention of buying anything from the bookstore, make me wonder if bookstores have the wrong business model.

Maybe bookstores should have a cover charge and a 2-book minimum.

Christi said...

I primarily read hard copy books -- I don't even own a Kindle, though I do borrow Kindles from family members on occasion. However, I find myself buying more and more books from Amazon as most of the book stores nearby have closed. I live in the LA area, and in the last few years, all the bookstores I visited regularly have closed -- the 2 Borders that were sort of on my way home to the valley from work in the city, the Barnes and Noble in Encino (it had free parking!), and the B&N I would go to at lunch time in West LA. There are hardly any new-book indie book stores in LA, and there are no good used book stores. I'm from Tucson, where Bookman's (a used book store) reigns in awesomeness with multiple huge locations and comfy couches, so these rare and threadbare used book stores in LA do not meet my expectations. All I have left are a little used bookstore in North Hollywood called Iliad, the B&N in Burbank, and the Book Star Barnes and Noble in Studio City (I think this one was an indie that was bought by B&N). Of these 3 that are left, none of them have the selection I want. However, I try to buy books at B&N to support the brick-and-mortar store ideal. I've never seen a general-new-book indie book store in LA (I'm not counting the new-agey niche stores here). I've heard there's one indie book shop in Pasadena and one in West Hollywood, but the first is out of the way and the second is right inside the Westside traffic/parking snarl that I prefer to avoid. Maybe Parnassus (of Nashville fame) will come open a branch out here...

Anonymous said...

New era? It doesn't sound like B&N is going to disappear. Borders and B&N expanded greatly as the Baby Boomers hit their most intense reading years, and lost ground during a recession. Doomsaying notwithstanding, ebooks and bookstores will coexist.


Scott said...

I have two universities within seven miles of my house, and yet there are no independent secular bookstores left in the entire county. B&N is the only non-religious book seller in the county. That's one of several reasons why I chose a Nook over a Kindle. I want them to stick around. Even when doing the majority of my shopping online, I've been trying to use B&N more often. But they don't make it easy. I haven't had great success with their customer support. A few months ago I tried to order two CDs and preorder a book, but the CDs were not going to ship until the book did because the order wasn't automatically split like it would have been on Amaxon. And, I can only have three gift cards on my account at once, and customer service can't combine. Their suggestion: delete the one with the smallest balance, forfeiting that balance, if I want to add a new card. I'll continue to try to support B&N, but they're not exactly making it easier to want to go to them first.

Melanie Schulz said...

I hate to sound like that movie "You've got mail," but when I'm in Barnes and Noble or another big box store, I look, but I buy on Amazon. If I'm in my local quaint little bookstore, I buy whatever Sue recommends. I think that's what's missing from the bigger stores; the expert advice.

Kara Hartz said...

I've tried to support my local Barnes and Noble, but like others have said: They don't make it easy. The last 4 - 5 visits I've left mad, and usually without what I went in for.
The worst was when I checked online before going to see if the title I wanted was in stock. There was only 1 and a button for me to reserve it. So I did, thinking it was better to buy it locally than ordering online. However, when I went to pick it up, it was over $5 more for the in-store price than the online price. Nothing in the reservations system warned me of this. Basically I felt punished for shopping in the store.
I can't be the only person these kinds of policies turn off.

Avery Tingle said...

I know it has to happen, but it doesn't mean I'm ready for it. I've hung out at Barnes & Noble for as long as I can remember (in fact, I'd make sure there was one nearby before I moved to an area). I know the times are changing, and eventually, a vast majority of them will be gone, just hate to see that era come to an end.

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