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Riggio Rallies Booksellers at BookExpo: ‘Open More Stores Than We Close’

31 May 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

‘There can never be too many bookstores in America,’ Barnes & Noble chief Len Riggio tells an appreciative crowd at the bookseller-oriented 2018 BookExpo in New York.

. . . .

And as if that grass doesn’t always seem greener than publishing’s, another departure awaited Wednesday’s industry BookExpo-goers who gathered to hear Barnes & Noble’s Len Riggio speak: he was introduced, and graciously, by Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association (ABA).

. . . .

In case the irony isn’t apparent, Barnes & Noble has at times in its history been bitterly criticized for closing the essential mom-and-pop bookstores of the association’s rank and file with its big-box clout. In fact, before Amazon had become retail’s most profitable nightmare, Barnes & Noble was the enemy in the eyes of many independent booksellers.

Teicher did his part to try to bolster Reed’s “reimagined BookExpo” effort by saying that “It’s hardly a secret that lots of industry trade shows in a whole range of industries have had some challenges of late.” He congratulated Several and his team for this year’s emphasis, which is on booksellers and their relationship with publishers—”reimagined,” purposefully, with the bookshop keeper in mind.

And to his credit, Teicher didn’t try to duck the fact that “My standing here, doing what I’m about to do”—introduce Barnes & Noble’s chairman—”would have been impossible to imagine several years ago.”

We all need, however, he said, “to recognize that things change. … The simple fact is that our business is stronger and American readers benefit when there is a vibrant and healthy network of brick-and-mortar bookshops all across the country.”

It’s a good bet that Amazon Books, those brick-and-mortar stores being rolled out by Seattle, aren’t the storefronts Teicher had in mind as he spoke, but he did concede that “In 2018, the Internet has its place,” without going so far as to add that online retail may be, in Cader’s phrase, the place that’s “driving half of book sales or more” in the States.

. . . .

While Barnes & Noble in its long life has sold more than 6.8 billion books, Riggio told us, David Leonhardt at The New York Times wrote on May 6 what everyone in publishing and finance has known for years while watching the bookstore chain try various error-prone “reimaginings” of its own: “Barnes & Noble is in trouble … And you really see the problems if you dig into the company’s financial statements.”

. . . .

Such lines as “a single book can change a person’s life,” however true, are the province of motivational speakers and retreat directors. Riggio offered that reassurance, as well as some handsome phrasing: “We are the showrooms for the publishing industry”—a fine concept until you remember that “showrooming” today can mean finding a book in a physical store and immediately ordering it from Amazon on one’s smartphone at a better price than that store can afford to offer.

. . . .

The one plea he made was cordially couched but aimed at publishers and their pricing. “The problem remains,” he said, “that today the average paperback costs two and half times the minimum wage, as compared to one and a half of the minimum wage when I got started. How sustainable can this be, when Google promises all the world’s information for free? … My dear publishers, serving the mass market is of critical importance to the performance of our industry, precisely because we need to attract more citizens, particularly young people.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Reading between the lines of the report on Riggio’s speech, PG sees “Please don’t sell any more Barnes & Noble stock.”

Bookstores

31 Comments to “Riggio Rallies Booksellers at BookExpo: ‘Open More Stores Than We Close’”

  1. Just in case you’re thinking that perhaps Len is a bit out of touch, here’s what he’s really focusing his attention on…

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-hamptons-oasis-that-barnes-noble-built-1527169607

  2. “Reading between the lines of the report on Riggio’s speech, PG sees “Please don’t sell any more Barnes & Noble stock.””

    Funny, his speech told me to quickly sell any I might have before it becomes more useful as bog paper. 😉

    “We are the showrooms for the publishing industry”

    ‘Were’ at one time maybe, I still wish Book Stop was still around. Today I’d not leave the house, the internet brings most stores to my screen (maybe you should work on yours?).

    And ol’ “Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association (ABA)” should love Amazon, they I hear sell books – a lot of them.

    • I think he’s peeved because Jeff isn’t a member.

      • What’s that joke about not wanting to be a member of the type of place that would accept a person like me as a member? 😉

  3. ‘There can never be too many bookstores in America,’ Barnes & Noble chief Len Riggio tells an appreciative crowd at the bookseller-oriented 2018 BookExpo in New York.

    The sky ISN’T falling. The sky ISN’T falling.

    Signed,

    Not Chicken Little

    • Anything linked to the internet can be a ‘bookstore’ – or a newspaper or a mall.

      All from your easy chair.

  4. Smart Debut Author

    Lordy.

    B&N is doomed, regardless, but listening to Riggio is like watching someone try to put out a burning car by throwing gasoline on it.

  5. “The problem remains,” he said, “that today the average paperback costs two and half times the minimum wage, as compared to one and a half of the minimum wage when I got started. How sustainable can this be, when Google promises all the world’s information for free? … My dear publishers, serving the mass market is of critical importance to the performance of our industry, precisely because we need to attract more citizens, particularly young people.”

    In my youth (which I would describe as the 90’s/early 00’s), I was very well read. But I can’t for the life of me actually remember purchasing fiction books until I was well out of college. Occasionally, I got some as gifts, but 95% of what I read came from either the school library or public libraries.

    I think the first fiction MG/YA books I actually bought were the Harry Potter series, ONLY BECAUSE it would have taken 4 months to 4 years to wait my turn for each of them on the library waiting list. There was no such waiting list for LOTR or other books I enjoyed multiple times that had been out for 50+ years.

    Maybe I’m out of touch in that regard, as my family was frugal and lived well below our means. But even today, I ask my sister if my niece would like any books and the answer is always no… because the public/school libraries have plenty of inventory that she can burn through.

    I saw a comment the other day on here that mentioned that publishers should make e-books cheaper for kids if we want to get them to read (which of course assumes kids want to read them that way in the first place). But my experience seems to run counter to that.

    A kid on a phone will surely want to do other activities–games, Snapchat, YouTube, & the plethora of other activities they can’t do with a phone or device at school, right? And this assumes the parents are cool with them just being on their phone half the night, unsupervised? And if they are reading, are they actually making purchases on their own?

    Don’t get me wrong, I am happy Riggio’s speech seems to call out publishers to lower pricing on Mass Market paperbacks for the MG/YA market. But my observational bias seems to think this will do more for the constrained budgets of libraries than actually convincing kids that they should buy six $10 books instead of buying a brand new video game.

    • Felix J. Torres

      Books for young kids are purchased by the parents.
      “Young” buyers tend to be college age or late High School.

      What Riggio is really asking for (and won’t get) is for the bigger publishers to reverse the trend of phasing out mass market paperback originals ($7-9) in favor of trade paperbacks at $13-15. And the people he needs to buy those books (to keep B&N afloat a bit longer) are avid genre readers, not proponents of literary culture. And those have moved heavily to ebooks and Indie, Inc.

      (Note that the ratio change he quotes is less the 3.5 to 1 ratio between Indie and Agency ebooks. Even if they were to listen to him, they’d still be overpriced.)

      Aside from talking to the wrong audience (proving yet again that consumers are always far from his thoughts) he is asking for the wrong thing 8 years too late. He should have asked for reasonable *ebook* pricing back in 2010 instead of joining the conspiracy and helping pressure Random House into agency.

      • I’ll still contend that there aren’t any “young buyers” in that sense, even at the age groups you list. I mean, clearly that’s why he’s saying they need to attract more. But by late high school and college, teachers are choosing what you are going to read, either purchased by the school and handed out to you in high school or purchased in a college bookshop for your English or Lit classes.

        But that’s just me being cynical. But gosh I hope they make mass market paperbacks cheaper and available right out the gate. I don’t want to wait to get Winds of Winter in MMP to match my collection.

        • Felix J. Torres

          If the only books the “kids” read are assigned by teachers they will stop reading as soon as they’re out of school. They’ll never big big nook buyers.

          The “kids” that keep bookstores (digital or print) open are self-motivated. They read for their own pleasure. But only as their budget/allowance or public library allows.
          As such, they will sooner buy three ebooks from an unknown than one expensive pbook from a top seller.
          Eventually, those “kids” end up with good jobs and deeper book buying budgets. But the habits of early life don’t break easy.
          Riggio isn’t wrong in wanting cheaper books: he’s just wrong to want them *now* after years of helping drive prices up. Wrong time, wrong audience.

      • When I can get a remaindered hardcover cheaper than I can get either the paperback or the ebook (of a traditionally published book, that is), I will opt for the remaindered hardcover. I’m out of shelf space, really, but we may eventually revamp the “library” at our house and I’ll get the increased shelf space I want.

        And who makes money off those remaindered hardcovers? I doubt that it’s the author.

        • I can definitely relate, but I think my bookshelves in the living room reflect a millennial couple. We’ve got dedicated space to video games, movies, TV seasons, and a lot of non-fiction. Most of the fiction I read is from the library (both print and e-books, the latter of which have been a nice addition to the library’s repertoire). I’ve had way too many issues buying a book and having to put it down that I’ve been hesitant to buy one before reading it (yes, even with the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon).

          • Terrence OBrien

            My bookshelves reflect a Baby-Boomer. Professional and reference books in the office, and everything else from the bookshelves gone to Goodwill. Lots of open space on those old shelves. Gob Bless eBooks.

            • My Baby-Boomer bookshelves sag under the weight of decades of purchases from Scholastic, Doubleday Book Club, used book stores, new book stores, library book sales, ad infinitum. I simply cannot bear to winnow out those shelves. My personal library represents my personal history.

              While eBooks purchases now outweigh hard print, I’m not sure my electron library will wield the same sway over the coming years.

              Dan

          • I’m the Xennial Generation; I fall between Gen X and Millennial. I have a library, which has book cases. One shelf has books from my childhood/YA years; I can’t relate to the children you speak of who only read what their teachers give them. Those weirdos may as well should be aliens to me 🙂

            The rest of my bookshelves are fiction and non-fiction. Some of the novels — particularly the small print ones — I’ve replaced with e-books. I’ve been meaning to box up the print versions. The non-fiction will stay; they’re references. The only paper books I buy these days are from tradpub authors I love, and from indies who I want to give an extra royalty to.

            I do have “shelf-space” for video games, but for the most part they’re on my hard drive. Gog.com has a lot of my old favorites that I re-bought dirt cheap (Gog has regular sales). I can either keep them in the cloud or download at my leisure. I’m not sure why I’m keeping the physical boxes around when I’ve replaced virtually all of those CDs with digital versions from Gog or Amazon that have (lawful!) patches to remove the “phone home” requirement. I plan on putting the movies/TV shows on a home server, but I haven’t gotten around to building it yet.

  6. I could see that Riggio’s claims about book prices would strike a nerve and be reprinted all over the place. But he’s dead wrong: books are cheaper today than they were in 1998, and the minimum wage is at low levels not seen since the 1950s. The data is layed out on my blog post: Only a wealthy man could remark on the confluence of the minimum wage and book prices. https://thefutureofpublishing.com/2018/05/book-prices-and-the-minimum-wage/

    • Felix J. Torres

      Mass market paperbacks in the 50’s and sixties were much cheaper than you posited. In the fifties they ran well under $0.50 ($0.30-0.35 most often) and in the 60’s $0.75. It wasn’t until the 70’s they went over $1.00 and by the 80’s they ran over $3.00.
      Here’s a sampling of pricing and inflation-adjusted prices from period genre titles:

      https://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=102755

      “1960 book costing $0.35 then would cost $2.58 in 2010 and $0.97 in 1980
      1962 book costing $0.50 then would cost $3.62 in 2010 and $1.36 in 1980
      1962 book costing $0.75 then would cost $5.42 in 2010 and $2.05 in 1980
      1967 book costing $0.40 then would cost $2.62 in 2010 and $0.99 in 1980
      1970 book costing $0.60 then would cost $3.38 in 2010 and $1.27 in 1980
      1971 book costing $0.75 then would cost $4.05 in 2010 and $1.53 in 1980
      1972 book costing $0.95 then would cost $4.96 in 2010 and $1.87 in 1980
      1972 book costing $1.25 then would cost $6.53 in 2010 and $2.46 in 1980
      1975 book costing $1.25 then would cost $5.08 in 2010 and $1.91 in 1980
      1976 book costing $1.75 then would cost $6.72 in 2010 and $2.53 in 1980
      1977 book costing $1.95 then would cost $7.03 in 2010
      1977 book costing $2.50 then would cost $9.02 in 2010 and $3.40 in 1980
      1979 book costing $1.95 then would cost $5.87 in 2010
      1979 book costing $2.25 then would cost $6.77 in 2010
      1980 book costing $2.95 then would cost $7.82 in 2010
      1983 book costing $3.95 then would cost $8.66 in 2010
      1984 book costing $2.75 then would cost $5.78 in 2010
      1987 book costing $4.95 then would cost $9.52 in 2010”

      Most genre paperback originals were a lot shorter in those days, typically 50-60K words. 30K books were common. An anthology might have 5-6 short stories or 3-4 novellas. Long novels were often broken up into multip!e volumes.
      Novels started getting fatter in the 80’s and 90’s as prices exceeded $5 and the corporate publishers wanted to justify the higher prices.

      • When newsstand paperbacks were introduced they were priced in competition with a pack of cigarettes. I guess as smoking has declined they’ve become uncoupled from that restraint.

        • Ah, I never knew that. I still like the principle (for writers) that you’re competing with beer money. Or Gog.com (video game) money. Or Netflix, etc.

        • Felix J. Torres

          (Website weirdness.)

          About paperback pricing above:

          That’s the Smithonian Mag version:

          https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/how-the-paperback-novel-changed-popular-literature-11893941/

          Might even be true for the UK.

          For the US pricing, I think competitive pressure might have had something to do with it. Paperbacks have a long history going back to the penny dreadfuls and dime novels of the 19th century, through the pulps and comics of the early to mid 20th. By the time the first Paperback Originals came out in the 50’s the remaining pulps were running $0.25-0.50 and, given the similarity and overlap of the markets, comparable pricing would’ve been perfectly logical. Which is what we got. Even the distribution networks were the same.

          When it comes to paperback originals, we hear a lot about the Ballantines doing day-and-date hardcover/paperback releases, annoying the establishment, but it was Fawcett that in 1950 really launched the mass market paperback as a market for original content:

          https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_Medal_Books

          https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fawcett_Publications

          “Gold Medal Books, launched by Fawcett Publications in 1950, was a U.S. book publisher known for introducing paperback originals, a publishing innovation at the time. Fawcett was also an independent newsstand distributor, and in 1949 the company negotiated a contract with New American Library to distribute their Mentor and Signet titles. This contract prohibited Fawcett from publishing their own paperback reprints.

          “Roscoe Kent Fawcett wanted to establish a line of Fawcett paperbacks, and he felt original paperbacks would not be a violation of the contract. In order to test a loophole in the contract, Fawcett published two anthologies — The Best of True Magazine and What Today’s Woman Should Know About Marriage and Sex — reprinting material from Fawcett magazines not previously published in books. When these books successfully sailed through the contract loophole, Fawcett announced Gold Medal Books, their line of paperback originals. Sales soared, prompting Ralph Daigh to comment, “In the past six months we have produced 9,020,645 books, and people seem to like them very well.” However, hardcover publishers resented Roscoe Fawcett’s innovation, as evidenced by Doubleday’s LeBaron R. Barker, who claimed that paperback originals could “undermine the whole structure of publishing.”

          Oh-so-familiar stuff, huh?

          There is also this:

          Early Gold Medal authors included John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, Richard S. Prather, and Marijane Meaker (under the pseudonym of “Vin Packer”).[citation needed]

          Other 1950 Gold Medal originals included the Western Stretch Dawson by William R. Burnett, the first lesbian pulp novel Women’s Barracks by Tereska Torres (later to be followed by Marijane Meaker’s Spring Fire and Ann Bannon’s Beebo Brinker Chronicles) and mystery-adventure novels — Nude in Mink by Sax Rohmer and I’ll Find You by Richard Himmel. After Donald E. Keyhoe’s article “Flying Saucers Are Real” in True (January 1950) created a sold-out sensation, with True going back to press for another print run, Keyhoe expanded the article into a top-selling paperback, The Flying Saucers Are Real, published by Fawcett that same year.

          “With an increase from 35 titles in 1950 to 66 titles in 1951, Gold Medal’s obvious success in issuing paperback originals revolutionized the industry. While MacDonald, Williams, Prather, Louis L’Amour, Richard Matheson, Bruno Fischer, and MacKinlay Kantor were joining Gold Medal’s roster of writers, other paperback publishers were soon asking agents for original manuscripts. Literary agent Donald MacCampbell stated that one publisher “threatened to boycott my agency if it continued to negotiate contracts with original 25-cent firms.”

          With their centennial coming up, it might not be a bad time to give Fawcett their due for their contributions. They even gave us the original and true Captain Marvel. (Better yet, Mary Marvel.) Accept no imitations. 😉 )

          (A lesson in copyright management being part of it.)

          Anyway, mass market originals have always been a threat to the publishing establishment which has never really gotten used to this thing called “universal literacy” and the idea of cheap reads. Phasing out mass market is a longtime dream coming true for them…
          …which is only opening them up to the bigger threat of Indie, Inc.

          Readers want cheap reads and have for centuries now.
          As I said, Riggio isn’t wrong to want cheaper material to sell; he’s just 8 years too late and in the wrong place to get them. He himself made sure of the latter.

      • I remember mass markets being $5 at some point when I was a kid/teen, and even though I know they’re all more than that now, I still tend to think they should all be $5 and am kind of annoyed whenever I look at the price of new ones. (I don’t buy a lot of new mass markets these days.) The ‘premium mass market’ size ticks me off, partly because it looks like a clear cash grab to tack a few MORE dollars onto the ‘economy’ version of the book.

  7. Terrence OBrien

    ‘There can never be too many bookstores in America,’ Barnes & Noble chief Len Riggio tells an appreciative crowd at the bookseller-oriented 2018 BookExpo in New York.

    Too many for what?

  8. Felix J. Torres

    Stocking Nora Roberts, King, or Patterson most likely.

    • Even better, just decide which books will be this season’s best sellers and mail them direct to customers with a bill, like Columbia House… outsource the editorial staff, warehousing and customer service, and you’d approach the ideal of the management-only business…

      • Well, some bookstores are trying to do something like that. To support the store you sign up for a monthly or quarterly “box” of books that they intuit you might like – somehow. It seems like a neat idea, similar to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, speaking to bookstores supposed advantage in “curating” the world of books for you.

        The thing is, this is also my gripe about small independent booksellers. They all seem to be focused on telling you what to read. They make it sound like a good thing, a service, but the more you look and listen the more you see these people get upset when you go “curate” on your own.

        • Felix J. Torres

          “Catch of the day” thinking.

          They can only sell what they have in stock and they can only recommended what they know. That happens to be the “catch” with the whole “bookstores as discovery tools”: that not all buyers have the same tastes as the store operators or are even blindly looking for something to read.

          A strong majority of book shoppers walk in already knowing what they want, whether it be a bandwagon “bestseller”, the new release by a favorite author, or just a non-specific book in a specific genre.

          Essentially, trade book publishing has grown too big and diverse for general-purpose bookstores. They can’t stock everything. They can’t even stock enough to meet the needs of the customers that might walk in.

          They need to specialize. Focus on a specific genre and go after it with a vengeance. In a way, that is how comic shops have endured even as american comics have faded into nichedom. Comics sales have declined enormously as prices have increased so newstands and general purpose bookstores have stopped carrying them and readers have gravitated to the specialty shops who have made it their business to cater to them specifically, cultivating a stream of regulars that keep them afloat.

          Bookstores need to cultivate a specific audience and a big enough core of regulars. The focus might be local interests, tribal identity, or genre but it needs to be *something* that draws specific readers. And, they also need to extend their reach beyond B&M to online, which is also something comic shops do.

          It’s essentially the same things Indie author/publishers need to do: Find an audience. Build a brand. Build a following. Keep that following.

          Easier said than done, but then, nobody said it would be easy.
          “If it was easy anyone could play.”

  9. “…today the average paperback costs two and half times the minimum wage, as compared to one and a half of the minimum wage when I got started. How sustainable can this be, when Google promises all the world’s information for free? … ”

    This quote is so annoying. Information? Maybe that covers nonfiction. But Google would have no business giving away stories of the fiction variety, and my guess would be that alot of stories sold are fiction. Hard to explain, but anyway you can’t justify selling an ebook for $15 so it’s no wonder they’re having to close bookstores.

    It’s very sad but trad pub has done it to themselves.
    It’s hard to feel bad for B&N when they had no issue putting mom and pop stores out of business… Amazon is just doing a better job of it by focusing on online services.

    • Felix J. Torres

      Penguin (and others, including B&N’s STIRLING) used to make tons of money selling public domain classics. They still make some money that way but Gutenberg and others (Including Google) are filling that niche nicely with free ebooks.

      The University of Virgina, for one, hosted a very popular collection of American literature for the litfic crowd. Some of it is still online, other titles migrated to Google and elsewhere. At its peak it hosted over 70,000 titles in multiple languages.

      http://www.digitalcurationservices.org/digital-stewardship-services/etext/

      There is also a fair amount of more recent pre-Sono Bono act fiction that has “fallen” into the public domain through lapses in copyright renewal. I’m mostly familiar with the SF material (my area of interest) but I’m sure the romance and mystery crowds can cite plenty of examples from their pools.

      To those with the interest there is no shortage of legally free fiction online. And that is without counting free promos from contemporary sources.

      It is one of the underappreciated virtues of ebooks dating back to the PDA era when many universities started digitizing classics and putting them online. eBooks aren’t just for those who can afford new books.

      • Penguin doesn’t sell public domain classics when it comes to translations or specific scholarly editions of English-language works. The Joshi editions of Lovecraft stories for example are edited from Lovecraft’s manuscripts and are not identical to the public domain reprints of his stories as printed in Weird Tales. Penguin adds value with editing, footnotes, bibliography, etc.

        • Felix J. Torres

          B&N’s Sterling also claims to add value. Especially now that they’re not the only game in town. They *need* something to justify their editions.
          But they both sell a lot less copies than they used to before ebooks. A lot harder to exploit the PD now.

          Translations are a different creature. In recent times we’ve seen all new translations of creations as old as Beowulf, which makes sense as we learn more about the original language and culture.

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