When Barnes & Noble’s CEO, Mitchell Klipper, told the Wall Street Journal that the mega-bookstore group plans to close one-third of its stores in the next ten years, he illustrated the cyclical nature the book industry has exhibited over the past twenty-five years. In the late 1980s, Barnes & Noble and Borders Group had periods of huge expansion, driving independent bookstores out of business. In 2011, Borders closed its doors after battling competition from Amazon and other online retailers. Now, it seems that Barnes & Noble may be following in Borders’ footsteps, ending the era of supersized bookstores for good.
The signs that Barnes & Noble is struggling are pretty clear. In 2009, the retailer opened more than 30 new stores. In this fiscal year, it has opened only two new stores, and plans to close about 20 a year for the next ten years. Despite the forecasted store closings, Klipper maintains that Barnes & Noble is still committed to providing a physical retail space for consumers. He says:
“You go to Barnes & Noble to forget about your everyday issues, to stay a while and relax. When you go to Bed, Bath & Beyond, you don’t sit down on the floor and curl up with your blender and your kid” (Shelf Awareness).
What Barnes & Noble store closings could mean for you
How will the proposed store closings affect Barnes & Noble customers, and readers across the nation?
1. It will be harder to go to the store and buy a book. For many people living in small towns or suburbs, the local Barnes & Noble is the only bookstore for 20, 30 or 40 miles. Strong independent bookstores are fairly rare (and are becoming more so every day). If you want to buy a book that’s not available at the grocery store or at Target, you may be forced to order it online simply because there isn’t a bookstore close enough to drive to.
2. Your options for digital readers may become limited. Barnes & Noble’s Nook comes in behind Amazon’s Kindle as the number two digital reading device in the U.S. Fewer Barnes & Noble stores means fewer places to acquaint readers with Nooks. As Nook’s influence wanes, the Kindle and iPad will likely rise to the top of the pile of digital reading platforms, leaving consumers with fewer options.
3. Discovery of new books and authors will become more difficult. Studies have shown that the most popular way for readers to discover new books is through word-of-mouth from friends and family. Coming in at a close second is advice from booksellers and browsing in bookstores. Amazon has struggled to find ways to increase new book discovery on their website, but is still not as effective at providing the experience of browsing aisles and peeping at book jackets. Less discovery eventually means that fewer new authors will break out into popularity… and fewer popular authors eventually means less diversity in the publishing world. Someday down the road, you may actually have less choice about which books are available for purchase.
Barnes & Noble released a statement to Gawker maintaining that their store closure rate has not changed from previous years, in which they have historically closed 10-15 stores, while continuing to open new ones, and that the company is “committed to the retail concept for the long term.”
Is this the beginning of the end for Barnes & Noble? How would your local B&N closing affect you and your family? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo credit: bclinesmith