Barnes & Noble released some details recently showing that revenues are down almost 5% and so on. The overall decline in sales and profits has been the lede of this news so far.
But one point that jumps out at me is worth mentioning (and lamenting). And that is the fact that Barnes & Noble bookstores are carrying fewer and fewer books every year.
Publishing industry thinker-doer-sage Thad McIlory surfaced the following nugget over on his site:
“In its latest report the company states that “each Barnes & Noble store features an authoritative selection of books, ranging from 22,000 to 164,000 titles.” The number ranged from “60,000 to 200,000 titles” in 2004. The long tail at Barnes & Noble is now 18% shorter.”
I feel frustrated every time I walk into a Barnes & Noble these days and have to navigate around the monolithic Nook base up front and then travel around all of the board games, toy figures and bobble-head dolls to get to… the fiction section. It’s that way in both the B&N shops here in town.
Lots of people go to stores with a specific title in mind to buy, but how many bump into books while there? How many folks browse and stumble into a good book and buy it? This happens. I know this happens. It happens to me. But when you keep fewer and fewer books on the shelves it is going to happen less and less.
I can only assume that on some spreadsheet somewhere it shows that the margin on toy figures is better than books. Which I’m sure it is. So the owner of that spreadsheet decrees that in the interest of chasing profits (which they do indeed need to do as B&N is hurting) they swap out books for non-book merchandise. Which probably gooses the bottom line a little.
But over time bookish folks don’t get all that excited about visiting a B&N anymore. Another two seasons like the past two and it’s going to look like the toy and magazine/book racks at Target or Wal-Mart. So folks start directing book buying elsewhere and it starts to feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I know the book industry is crazy right now and margins on books have always been razor-thin, but the more Barnes & Noble goes down this path it really feels like it’s doing more damage than good.
Am I off in my thinking? Anyone else see it differently?
The Portsmouth Athenaeum, in New Hampshire, has made my “book/library/shop that I must visit one day” list. How much fun would it be to peruse these stacks and hang out in their reading room for an afternoon? So cool.
The Athenaeum is a non-profit “membership” library where people pay dues to use the stacks and attend events. And folks have been doing that since 1817 when the library was founded. There is so much history here.
I love the bookcases and tables. You can click through these photos to see the virtual tour page for the Portsmouth Athenaeum (it uses a shockwave viewer, so you may need a plug-in to scroll around), but it’s totally worth it if you like books and books about books.
There seems to be quite a history to the idea of a “member supported” library. It was quite the model for sharing books and knowledge 150 years ago. You could belong to a travel library, philosophy library, general lending library, etc. Whatever your interests were and you could afford. Almost like private clubs to a degree I imagine.
Libraries have changed (for the better, I think) quite a bit over the years, but it sure is fun to look at these old stacks and think about how it used to be. Maybe I’ll make it up there one day to see it in person.
Here are three local Birmingham author signings that may be worth a visit. It’s great to see McCammon still cranking out the books. I think we’re not too far off before A Boy’s Life is considered a classic. So check your calendar and see if any of these book signing interest you.
Thursday, June 11th starting at 4:00pm – Robert McCammon will be at the Alabama Booksmith signing his new book The Border. This one has aliens!
Friday, June 12th starting at 9:00pm – Dr. Ruth Westheimer will be in town signing her new book The Dr. Is In. This is a ticketed event, so call ahead. It’s being held at the Terrific New Theater on 2nd Ave. North.
Saturday, June 13th from 2:00pm – 3:00pm – Dr. Donald E. Wilson, Professor of History Emeritus at Samford University signing his new book Alabama Bomber Boys: 70th Anniversary Memorial Edition at Books-A-Million, Brookwood Village.
The folks at Type books up in Ontario produced this stop motion video, called The Joy of Books almost three years ago and it’s still a good one.
What is it about sitting back and watching all the books go ’round? I also have to say that the whole “shelve your books by color” contingent is bolstered – it really works when the rainbow of book spines are moving along to the beat.
Creative people are cool. Creative book people are +1 beyond that though.