The State of Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores

Last year, Borders Books, the second largest bookseller in the U.S., closed its doors.  Their inability to compete with large online retailers such as Amazon was the primary reason cited for their bankruptcy.  When Borders went under, many industry experts wonder what other brick-and-mortar bookseller would follow.

In late January, Barnes & Noble, perhaps the largest remain U.S. brick-and-mortar bookseller, announced plans to close a third of its stores over the next decade.  Many of the store slated for closure have been deemed unprofitable by the company.  Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble’s retail group, has downplayed the closures by noting that a smaller physical footprint is “a good business model.”  This seems like a sensible strategy, considering print book sales continue to decline, dropping 22% over the past five years, while ebooks have become more popular.  Even though Barnes & Noble insists it “is fully committed to the retail concept for the long-term,” I have to wonder if this is simply a prelude to another closure.

Yet it’s not all bad news.  While Barnes & Noble “streamline” their business model, the American Booksellers Association announced that 43 new independent bookstores opened in the U.S. in 2012.  How many of these new stores will succeed is unknown, but it doesn’t look like the brick and mortar bookstore is dead just yet (like the print book isn’t dead yet, either).  Maybe the bookselling industry is moving away from “big box” stores to smaller niche store, almost “boutique” bookstores.  It’ll be interesting to see how these smaller establishments can compete with large online retailers, especially as ebooks continue increase their market shares.  This is certainly an interesting time to in the publishing industry….

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About D. Thomas Minton

Writer of speculative fiction
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2 Responses to The State of Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores

  1. ericjbaker says:

    Unfortunately for book stores, they just can’t be competitive when it comes to pricing. They must figure out how to offer something to consumers that overcomes the ease and affordability you get with amazon. Barnes and Noble’s online entity even undercuts the bricks-and-mortar version pretty dramatically. Whenever someone gives me a gift card from B&N, of course I go to the web site. I can get 40% more stuff for the same price.

    • It would seem that way. Amazon is also notorious for undercutting—it will lower the price on a book without consulting the author/publisher and undercut other businesses (this is particularly challenging for self-published authors). While pricing is one problem, I see selection as the other; brick and mortar places simple can’t carry the selection of an online store, whether it’s Amazon or Barnes & Noble online. I have a hard time finding the books I want at most stores.

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