Whither Barnes & Noble?

Sunday , 20, January 2019 7 Comments

I stopped at the regional Barnes & Noble bookstore last week with some time to kill. I was surprised. The normally very well stocked remainder section had bare shelves. The Barnes & Noble bargain hardbacks seemed scarce.

A trip to the fiction section was also a surprise. The section with Barnes & Noble imprint paperback classics appeared as if it had not been restocked in a while. There was a fair amount of bare shelf space.

I had already noticed the science fiction anthology section had been cut down about 25% of what it used to be.  The shelves did seem to be filled in that section.

The death watch has been on for the last few years for Barnes & Noble. There has been a recent lawsuit by the last CEO. There have been five CEOs in five years.

A check at Market Watch has stock down 4.2% after downbeat earnings outlook and holiday sales. Stock is down -10.3% the past year, -3.78% the past three months, +9.84% the past month.

Third quarter sales in 2018 were down 6.1% compared with a year ago. Losses as of September 2018 were $17 million.

Sales have been decreasing for 11 years! 1,800 full time employees were laid off  11 months ago. Head cashiers, receiving managers, digital leads (Nook troubleshooters), newsstands leads, bargain leads were let go. This is why the shelves are looking the way they are now. Circuit City did the same thing on its downward spiral.

The company supposed also lost $1.3 billion on the Nook reading device. It closed 70 of 720 locations. There used to be a big, beautiful store in the Squirrel Hill district of Pittsburgh that is now gone.

Their woes have translated into opportunity for independent bookstores which had a 6% increase in 2017.

Articles have gone back and forth that Amazon is blame, Amazon is not to blame for all Barnes & Noble’s woes.

I have read a big problem was getting away from selling books and getting into games and toys. The old do one or two things well instead of many things badly.

About two or three years ago, I read an online article on B&N’s financial woes. A new CEO had just come in and said the emphasis was going to be on the community events. I knew that was a bad idea and obviously it was. Enticing people to hang out but not buy anything is a bad idea. Another brilliant idiot with a Masters of Business Administration degree.

I have to say I was elated when our store opened in summer 1994. I think I blew close to $100.00 the first time I sent in. B&N had those 100 Little… volumes. I bought a bunch of those that I am looking at on a shelf right now. It was an incredible inexpensive way to get pulp magazine story reprints.

I bought many history books reprinted by B&N– Morris’ Age of Arthur, Henry Treece’s history of the Crusades, Dinosaurs: A Global View. The list goes on and on.

I had the membership card one year. The “membership” did cost $20.00 for one year. You would have to spend $200 a year there just to break even, let alone see any cost savings. I do pick up a paperback now and then and bargain hardbacks from the remainder section. Amazon often does not have much in the way of discounts in mass market paperbacks.

I would hate to see Barnes & Noble go under. They did lay waste to local bookstores but not around here. I like having a place to stop by and pick up a book on the Spanish and Portuguese Crusades in North Africa or the most recent Baen anthology (if they have it).

I have seen bookstore chains come and go- B. Dalton Booksellers, Walden Books, Atlantic, Border’s, Taylor’s. I loved Border’s. If B&N goes under, some other corporation might fill the void but somehow, I have the feeling those days are over.

  • Here on Staten Island, B&N just built a new, slightly smaller store and closed its other less-than 20 year old location. The new one has fewer books, is too brightly lit, louder, and physically uncomfortable.Games and overpriced movies have pushed out books. I used to spend a ton of money in B&N, but now on the rare occasions I go there I’m quickly reminded why I prefer Amazon.

    • Alex says:

      I’ve never understood how B&N managed to justify its movie department.

      Their movies and music were always ridiculously overpriced compared to the competition. The only advantage they had was when they were stocking stranger fare (my B&N used to carry a lot of Boris and Sunn O))) when a friend of mine worked there), which made it useful for when someone had a birthday: “Everyone needs a copy of Pink by Boris; I’ll just swing by the B&N and grab one”.

      Now, they actually carry fewer cds than LPs, and they’re both still wildly overpriced.

      Saw an Allman Bros. box set of the full Live at the Fillmore. $20-$40, it would’ve been a steal, but I’m not paying $80 for 7 cds.

      About 30%+ of the local store is now devoted to toys, games and weeb-bait merch.

  • Scoot says:

    I have a gut feeling, based on no evidence that one day, small independent books stores will thrive.

    They may serve niche markets but if AMZN stumbles and the price of energy goes up….

  • Ben B Bridenbugh says:

    Let’s see – Borders killed itself stretching itself too thin – tons of toys – music – movies.

    Hastings already was a music/movie store that sold books – but whoops toy and kid section.

    And B&N…

    Like Underpants Gnomes but totally insane
    Stage 1 – overstretch market into competing sections
    Stage 3 – bankruptcy

    Really, the “Kid’s” section and “Toy Store” is torment to me. The toy store – well now I know what ‘I wish there were toys like that when I was a kid’ feels like – thanks… And yes I could buy them, but all too juvenile even the STEM bait… Just be wasting money for a shelf for dust-bunnies on the shelf.

    And the Kid’s book store that’s another level of loathing. It’s unlikely but still possible I’ll get married and have kids, so not real heartstring issue yet. What is is that sometimes I feel nostalgic. Like might want to use some of my vast (ahah) disposable income and buy a deluxe version of “Peter Pan” or “Winnie the Pooh” and enjoy them as an adult, or find those “Choose your own adventure” or “Fighting Fantasy” books re-published… The former I would as an adult enjoy what I hated being forced to read as a kid, the latter I’d enjoy – though yes I have versions for computer and tablet – Fighting Fantasy is still up and running, people! So I go back, late at night, no reading or kids in the section to give a quick looksee…

    CAN I HELP YOU!? Some piercing factory young lady almost shouts from behind me. Clockwork orange forced eyes wide open and smile. Treating me -as paperwork and fear of monitoring force – like I’m Chester the Molester with a sack ready to scoop up kids and run off with them. CANIHELPYOUCANIHELPYOU… Not afraid to have a 5 minute close personal conversation with a co-worker and non-customer friend when I’m waiting to order my coffee but afraid of letting me look for a second back in the kids section, even with no kids back there… Yeah, if I wanted one item I know they have I can wait at the desk “ADULT wanting in the Children’s section…repeat” over the PA very loud, the title yelled loud if embarassing…but come back there you are lucky if the police aren’t called. Heh, glad I’m white – but then again no one should be treated that way unfairly.

    And then – me being a ‘bohemian’ – NOT a “Hipster” – but free thinker – I do like to sit in bookstores once in a while for a change of pace. I’ve concieved some good stories and music projects there. At B&N I get to do that with shrieking kids there shrieking for toys when they already have something like Nickelodeon “Gak” throwing it around and it’s seeping into the Burroughs book you were thinking of buying again coz it has a new edition/cover… The Ticket that Exploded – and was stained GREEN by some bratty little boy flinging GAK… Heh, wish Burroush WAS still alive and in the bookstore… He wouldn’t get mad, he’d look at the boy and I’d go “I’m a big fan, let me help you Sir!” and I’d go “This young lad wants an autograph from this famous prestigious writer…could he go on a trip with him?” to the little brat’s mother who’s frazzled and eager for an afternoon off…!

    One of my best Elephant SH-t fantasies for “if I won the lottery” is to make a “3rd Place” run not for profit but for people to sit and relax and read and socialize. I’d have used an empty K-Mart or ToysRUs box store and set up some food and book stores – but only to keep the place running and bills paid – the rest would be a large indoor coffeshop done middle eastern style. Mostly a place to read and talk with friends with some bellydance and readings on weekends/evenings. Yes, cool stuff like Turkish Coffee, chess boards, etc. likely imported, lots of bean bags and fancy tiling and wall hangings. Nuce dishes

    For the KIDS I’d pull off a corner, with a long hall to walk to to get to a pay as you go day-care. And there’d be an arcade in the hall – retro games mostly – so the baffling would get rid of the kid noises. There’d be an alarmed fire exit and a full time employee there to watch the kids of course, plus a camera. Think show ID, get a tag that gets locked on a kid and un-locked when they take them…double doors don’t open if a tag is on. So adults with kids can drop them off but enjoy lunch and a coffee in peace.

    What needs to be done is to add “3rd Palces” where people come and sit and talk – some business but just enough to keep it running, not for profit – no “Get the Sh– to BUY and GETOUT!” ethic we have everywhere else. IMO that’d be one of the best and most subversive things to do these days…

  • Keith West says:

    My local B&N moved into the local mall shortly before I moved to where I live now, which would put it at roughly a decade ago. On weekends it is full of unsupervised kids running through it when they get bored with the mall. Shelf space is shrinking. Selection continues to get more limited.

    I have no illusions about it lasting much longer. While I will still pop in on a Friday night to browse and read, I don’t go there very often anymore.

  • Blume says:

    I don’t know about small independent booksellers but Half-Priced books a chain used bookstore is doing pretty good in Houston. They are almost always pack when me and the wife go. And we always overspend our budget. That store has a similar mix of books, movies, music, toys and games.

    I think the real take away from the Half-priced books example is that the price and selection are what is killing Barnes and Noble. You can have ancillary products but they are ancillary. You need enough stock to continually bring in customers. Me and the wife will spend a whole Saturday as a date browsing Half-Priced but Barnes and Noble is a half hour at most.

  • I was happy when B&N and Borders pushed out the small chains and independents in NYC. They had better selection at better prices. Their clerks were more professional and not given to snootiness like in the smaller stores. Whomever selected horror in Borders was way better than any independent store.

    Maybe a new life for independent sellers in the day of Amazon will mean they have to be better stores with better staff.

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