Home » Bookstores, Mike Shatzkin » B&N results are disappointing, and one wonders if prior success with NOOK might deserve part of the blame

B&N results are disappointing, and one wonders if prior success with NOOK might deserve part of the blame

4 January 2013

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Barnes & Noble announced some holiday sales results this morning and they were universally disappointing.

Overall sales are down. Same-store and online sales (the year-to-year comparables) are down 8.2%, while total sales are down 10.9% (because they have closed more stores than they’ve opened.)

NOOK sales were down 12.6% for the holiday period. Digital content sales were up 13.1%, but that’s alarming too. The company has sold a lot of devices since last Christmas (I don’t know, but one would expect the number of NOOK devices in the market has gone up by more than 13.1% in the past year) and last year they reported (according to Publishers Lunch) that NOOK business rose 43% during the holidays.

But what was most attention-grabbing (to me) was that the core sales decline was attributed to “lower bookstore traffic”.

Since the results were announced this morning, I had a conversation with a journalist who pointed out that the indies (anecdotally) seem to be reporting a very good Christmas. Why would the indies be up and B&N be down, this person wondered?

. . . .

The anecdata is that a Big Six CEO told me a couple of months ago that a very major book being published by that house (certainly one of the ten most anticipated releases of 2012) was not primarily promoted at B&N because they couldn’t get the bandwidth and cooperation on the B&N side to put something together. So the book was instead primarily launched through Walmart.

The conjecture in the last post was that the independents were more focused on selling printed books than B&N was. Indies are selling Kobo readers, but I’ll bet not one of them is devoting the prime sales space and portion of the paid staff to them that B&N does to the NOOKs. They’re focused on selling books, not devices, so they’re merchandising them better.

And the insight is that B&N has converted much of its store traffic to an online customer base because of their success at selling NOOKs. Those people may not be coming back, except virtually. These results may be the evidence of that.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files (note: Mike’s website was down when PG last tested it so the link might not work)

Bookstores, Mike Shatzkin

13 Comments to “B&N results are disappointing, and one wonders if prior success with NOOK might deserve part of the blame”

  1. 🙁 Still no update at Smashwords for the last two months from B&N.

    • *checks* Last update from B&N I have on my dashboard is November 1. Last payment to Smashwords, from B&N, I have on record is December 15.

      • Hmmm. Where did you find the December 15 date? (Usually that coincides with the “Balance Adjusted For Retailer Sales Through” number, which for me is October 31.

        • One of my sales, on October 23, was paid on December 15th. (Balance Updated column.) It’s true that the Balance Adjusted number is October 31 for me as well, but the December date is in the column…

          • Ah, I think the Balance Adjusted number refers to the date of the sales that were paid for, not when the payment was made to Smashwords. It’s always at least a month behind except when the payment deadlines loom.

            I’ve been hearing all sorts of third-hand reports that B&Ns reporting in general has been whacky for a couple of months. I don’t like the sound of it, but at least the other reports weren’t all about sales (things like blurb and cover updates which look like they didn’t go through, except if you click through, the user page shows they did, etc…). That at least indicates computer problems rather than my fear of them getting ready to stiff us.

  2. I almost blogged about B&N’s lack of books last week! I haven’t been in one of their stores in a while (I live in a small town – the closest one is 50 miles away) and had heard the buzz about how little floor space was being given to books now-a-days, but to be honest, I didn’t believe the rumors. After all, Barnes & Noble IS a bookstore, right? What else would they sell?

    Apparently anything. Less than 50% of the floorspace was available for books – the rest was taken up with calendars, a bistro, tables of games, notepads and other “stuff”. The selection of books in each (very small) genre aisle was pitiful. Even well-known classics were hard to find!

    I don’t think the Nook is to blame in this. I think it’s a case of bad systems thinking by whoever makes floorspace decisions. “We’re not selling as many books, so let’s cut the floorspace and give customers fewer choices,” when they should be thinking, “We’re not selling as many books, let’s give people MORE choice in what to read!”

    Okay, off my soapbox now..

  3. I said it before and I’ll say it again. Barnes & Noble selling ereaders is like McDonalds selling hamburger grills. You can’t serve two masters.
    They need to go all digital.
    Those brick & mortar stores are relics.

    • I don’t know, most of the Nook buyers I know bought them specifically because they were technophobic and wanted a store front nearby to go get help.

      Maybe B&N needs to turn into a variation on an internet cafe business.

      • That’s my feeling as well. It sounds like their customers are heavily tied to their stores.
        I think they said the average Nook buyer was a woman aged 25-45, who lived within 15 miles of a store. And something about Nook buyers visiting the store often to buy their ebooks there and get help with them.

        If that’s true, it’s hard to see how Nook could survive if they dumped the brick and mortars.

  4. It’s not just B&N that is suffering from the Nook tie-in; so is Nook. Too many Nook decisions are made from the bookselling point of view instead of the tech company point of view and too many B&N decisions are made to try to sell Nook instead of books, to the detriment of both.
    The store ties *are* holding Nook back but the free floorspace and staff time being spent trying (and apparently, failing) to sell Nook hardware is killing B&N.
    They need to go their separate ways so both can focus on the own business and live long (and even prosper) separately.

  5. BN hasn’t conveyed to me the appearance of caring one whit about digital sales, especially not indie. Maybe they’ll do better with the baby food processors or whatever.

  6. I think Mike is wrong about this one. He admits to not knowing for sure what Nook sales have been, but he should know that selling a lot of Nooks creates a lot of high-volume customers.

    You can’t believe that B&N sold a lot of Nooks AND believe those readers defied the usual habits of people reading ebooks.

    It’s more likely that the sales of the Nook dropped a lot during the year. Being the distant second in a declining market (dedicated ereaders) makes you vulnerable to sudden loss of sales.

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