Amazon began its life as an online bookstore in 1995 and a seller of e-books in 2007. Borders went from owning 511 superstores and 175 Waldenbooks to liquidation in less than two years. Barnes & Noble closed all 798 of its B. Dalton stores and, despite the disappearance of Borders, is quietly shedding superstores whose numbers peaked in 2008 at 726.
B&N announced a month ago that store sales for the last nine weeks of 2012 declined 11% compared to the previous year. Despite coming out with not one, but two well-reviewed e-reading devices, Nook sales declined 13% (though digital content sales were higher).
In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, B&N’s chief executive of retail stated that even though fewer than 20 stores were currently losing money, the company would be closing 20 stores per year over the next ten years, or about one-third of their total, settling at 450 to 500 stores. Many (including unhappy B&N employees) see even that as wildly optimistic.
Remaining stores are changing. If you have not visited the B&N at the Edgewood Retail District over on Moreland in a while, the place looks different. There are more toys and educational materials. There are fewer and fewer books.
Should Barnes & Noble close down in the next few years, the United States would lose over half of its non-college bookstores and perhaps 80% of the retail square footage devoted to books within a span of five years.
Can large bookstores survive? Can any bookstore survive? Does it matter?
Melanie Benjamin, author of The Aviator’s Wife, Wednesday, February 6th at 7pm, Margaret Mitchell House, free.
Dave Barry, author of Insane City: A Novel, Wednesday, February 13th at 7pm, Carter Center, free.
Photo courtesy of Melville House