Indie Bookstores

Barnes and Noble results and the latest news from Perseus

15 September 2015

From Mike Shatzkin

The most recent Barnes & Noble financial results — which appear to have discouraged Wall Street investors — aren’t good news for the book business. They show that the sale of books through their stores is flat at best, as is the shelf space assigned to books. And it would take a particularly optimistic view of their NOOK results to see anything but an accelerating slide to oblivion for what was, for a time a few years ago, the surging challenger to Kindle.

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The real failure we see at B&N, which almost certainly affected the NOOK business as well as the stores, was that the customer knowledge within the dot com and NOOK operations apparently has never been used on behalf of the store business. This might be blamed on organizational silos that ran these three components as separate businesses. The failure is otherwise hard to explain. How hard can it be, really, to dig up email addresses of people who bought a book by a particular author to let them know s/he’ll be autographing books near where they live sometime soon?

Or, putting that in terms Barnes & Noble should relate to, might you not be able to charge the publishers a promotional fee for doing that? (AND you’d drive more traffic and sell more books!)

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The people who own and run B&N are plenty smart. Before the game changed and was complicated by the online option, they had organized their supply chain to give them real competitive advantage over Borders and all other book retailers. But they were tripped up by a combination of Amazon’s longer-term view as an upstart in the 1990s and early 2000s when B&N was an established and profitable company. This was a classic “innovator’s dilemma”, failing to employ a new technology to maximum advantage because a legacy position was being defended.

Amazon was willing to lose money for many years to build its customer base. That was how they could build their stock price. B&N was a profitable company at the top of their category. Profits were how they grew their stock price. This not only discouraged deep investment in the early years of online bookselling, it discouraged the kind of discounting from their online store that Amazon did. Both of them knew that discounted books online put competitive pressure on the brick-and-mortar business. That was fine with Amazon. It was not appealing to Barnes & Noble.

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When B&N decided to go after the ebook market with the NOOK, organizationally they did it with a dedicated and largely independent effort, not an integrated one. That might have been necessary. But it also might have been B&N’s last chance to build on its one distinctive advantage: having a strong store base and a real dot com business. (Borders never had the latter and Amazon, of course, doesn’t have the former.)

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But the time B&N has to change the reality that they can’t seem to grow their market share continues to shorten. The one big advantage they are likely to retain over their competitors in Seattle — who are certainly growing theirs! — will be a cooperative attitude from the publishers, who live in fear of Amazon’s growing power. But even that advantage has its limits.

Link to the rest here.

As a long time reader of Mikes blog I have to say this is one of his better posts. Some of this will no doubt be read by many here as information they already had, but the break-down is spot-on.

As for the changing landscape of B&N and its effect on the Big Five Randall views it as self-fulfilling. The dwindling shelf space at B&N will eventually lead to only the bestsellers being available. This will reduce the mid-list titles to an even smaller portion and effectively lock the Big Five into the blockbuster model for the remainder of their existence.

However, if you find yourself in sudden need of a birthday card, stuffed animal, calendar, scented candle and cup of coffee, B&N is your place for one-stop shopping. 

Indie Bookstores Aren’t Dead — They’re Making A Comeback

4 October 2014

From at The Huffington Post

“The Death of the Independent Bookstore?”; “Is the Bookstore Dead?”; “Why Bookstores are Doomed”: those headlines are from Slate (2006), Jewish Journal (2011), and Business Insider (2013). For years, journalists have made these types of predictions about the death of independent bookstores: if the chains didn’t crush them, Amazon would. If Amazon didn’t, they would die anyway because people just weren’t reading.

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But around the time of that lament, a sea change occurred. Bookshops continued to close, but others began to open. In 2009, the number of independent bookstores in the nation stabilized at around 1,400, and then slowly began to grow. As of last May, the number of indie bookshops in the U.S. was 1,664.
Why the turnaround? Part of the reason was the long, slow implosion of one of indie bookselling’s biggest competitors: Borders went heavily into CDs and DVDs only to find itself competing with iTunes, and then outsourced its online bookselling to Amazon.

The company’s last profitable year was 2006. It filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
Other factors, such as the buy-local movement and an increase in reading among adult Americans, have helped as well. But the biggest reason independent bookstores are still around is that the store closures of the previous decade alerted people to what they were in danger of losing. Author Ann Patchett wrote that when the last two bookstores in her hometown of Nashville closed, “The Nashville Public Library organized community forums for concerned citizens to come together and discuss how we might get a bookstore again.” When I first read that passage two years ago, I was struck by the public reaction. A community wouldn’t respond like this to the loss of just any business.

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As a veteran bookseller, Evans was eminently established and experienced when the funeral bells began to toll for the independents. But when David Sandberg and Dina Mardell bought Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., in 2013, the conventional wisdom was still against the indies.
If you ask Sandberg why he and his partner decided to buy Porter Square Books when it went on the market, he’ll admit it was on impulse.

“We bought it without a particular rationale. We thought [running a bookstore] would be a great thing to do, even though we had never thought about it before. We just did it.”

But he doesn’t regret the decision. “We love owning a bookstore,” he says.

It’s obvious to Sandberg that the store provides people with more than just a way to buy a book: “The previous owners and their staff created a community. And the customers appreciate the expertise of the people who work here. They like knowing someone is going to help them, and that’s hard to do in an online environment.”

As for the business end? “The store’s never had a year when sales have gone down.”

Read the rest of this warm and fuzzy tale here.

From Guest blogger Randall.

If Self-Publishing is the new Wild Wild West, Who’s the Sheriff?

17 October 2013

Chris McCrudden on Publishing:

“I want to talk about self-publishing. In particular the self-published pornography that found its way on WH Smith’s website via the retailer’s partnership with Kobo, which was spotted by The Mail on Sunday and has since led to a virulent press and social media campaign against ‘vile trade’.”

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“For me this episode highlights a fundamental tension within the eBook selling industry which is all about why being a platform is different to being a retailer. The success of platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Kobo’s Writing Life are quality neutral at the point of entry. They exist to scoop up a critical mass of content because they believe consumers want to deal with the platform with the biggest inventory.”

Read the rest here:  If Self-Publishing is the new Wild Wild West, Who’s the Sheriff?

Julia Barrett