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A Short Fool.com Column takes a look at Borders and Barnes & Noble. Peddling books is a tough business, relying on a relatively small number of best-sellers to grow sales (and competitive forces have forced a lot of margin-killing discounts).
Barnes & Noble hasn't had quite as difficult a time as Borders, although its fourth-quarter net income dipped 9.2% as the competitive climate led to lower margins. However, in contrast to Borders' tidings, Barnes & Noble was able to increase its dividend and said that it will be profitable in the first quarter, even though it's by no means indicating an easy year ahead. It's guiding for annual earnings about flat compared to 2007.
WSJ had an article titled "Borders' about-face aims for book sales". I am linking to the article in a Detroit paper because it was reprinted there and you can see the full-text. The article is not available at WSJ without a subscription. At the WSJ opinion page some book sellers have written to comment on the article. The original story is here and the commentary by the other book sellers is here.
Pretty shocking news: Borders is putting itself up for sale or may sell divisions. It has suspended its dividend. It is borrowing some $42.5 million from the hedge fund that is its largest shareholder. That fund may buy parts of the company and is being granted warrants for Borders stock that represent about 20% of the company.
Borders has hired J.P. Morgan Securities and Merrill Lynch to explore the sale of the company or of its divisions "for the purpose of maximizing shareholder value."
Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog Notes Borders is announcing plans to feature more titles face-out on the shelves, resulting in fewer titles in each store.
Perhaps it's time to look at all the available real estate in the store and come up with some innovative ways to maintain broad selection while still moving to this face-out model. After all, it's better for a customer to discover a book is in the store (but not on the shelf) via a kiosk or clerk than to walk away without making a purchase, right?
Two questions come to mind?
So if book stores start carrying fewer titles do we have an advantage at libraries?
Could/Should libraries go face-out?
As the folks over at the Wyoming Arts blog recently noted, a few weeks ago Publisher’s Weekly featured Torrie Rice’s Wheatland Mercantile Book Nook in Claire Kirch’s article, ”Wild West Bookseller.” Kirch writes:
“According to Rice—a self-professed ‘bookaholic’—Wheatland, a primarily agricultural community adjacent to a desolate stretch of I-25, halfway between Cheyenne and Casper, had always lacked a bookstore. The local library ‘didn’t have much,’ either, for the town’s 3,500 residents.”
So in 2003, Rice started a bookstore, but that’s not all she sells:
“This being Wyoming, where a Wild West mentality still thrives, Rice sells the 4,000 titles in her inventory alongside products made and sold by her husband, Jef Rice: custom-built handguns and rifles.
Who (and/or whom) do you want to dictate your taste in books...
4) a librarian
5) thank you I'll make up my own damn mind?
The New York Times talks about the book buyers for those three retailers, and the fact that all are headquartered in America's most literate city, Seattle.
Librarian and book guru Nancy Pearl is also highlighted as an arbiter of literary taste, and her start in Seattle is documented in this article.
Abunga.com touts itself as a "family friendly" Web site that allows its buyers to ban so-called 'saucy books' from their accounts. What's more, if enough customers block a certain book, the company removes it from the site altogether.
Just this month, the Knoxville, Tenn., site banned "The Golden Compass," a children's fantasy novel that has been targeted by religious groups as being anti-Christian since the release of the film version of the book in December. More from ABC News.
"Once I could have sold my books to any number of local used bookshops for a reasonable sum--now nobody much wants anything, aside from rarities--because everything is available online. I myself understand the attractiveness of being able to buy everything you want, but I don't like the whole outlook. It's like a billionaire buying a beautiful woman any time he wants one to sleep with--where's the romance, where's the excitement, the heartache, the attendant glories and sorrows of romance? Once it was exciting to go out 'booking'--and there were scores of places to go. But now, now. To make everything freely available makes everything seem that much less interesting and desirable. But I begin to rant."--Michael Dirda in a discussion held Wednesday at the Washington Post.
Vermont's wonderful Northshire Bookstore is getting one of those hot new Espresso Book Machines. They are proud to be the first independent bookstore in the United States—and one of only five locations in the world—to have an Espresso Book Machine (EBM) right on the premises. The EBM is a patented fully integrated book-making machine that can automatically produce a beautiful, high-quality trade-size paperback book in mere minutes...take a peek here(quicktime movie).