By Jessica Feese (Creighton University)
Anyone looking to buy a bookstore? Recent news has it Barnes & Noble is on the lookout to sell. Barnes & Noble enthusiasts may treat this as the end of the world, but just look at the facts: Barnes & Noble (B&N) is a company that sells elastic goods. In other words, there are a lot of substitutes to the company, books are a luxury, and time is money. And demand for books from Barnes & Noble has been slowly decreasing. As proven by Fortune.com, “the company’s market value is around $400 million, down about 80% from its 2006 all-time high about $2 billion”. Part of that decline is thanks to Amazon, Barnes & Noble’s biggest competitor. Books from Amazon, on average, have lower prices. They also have faster delivery. An Amazon Prime Member is guaranteed to receive the book in the mail in two days, and a pre-ordered a book is guaranteed delivery on the release date. Barnes and Noble’s members are guaranteed delivery in 1-3 business days, and with a pre-ordered book, the waiting period remains the same.
When it comes to online shopping, Amazon clearly wins out. And these days, online shopping has become the dominant method of acquiring new things. Just think about the time it takes to get in a car and drive to the nearest Barnes & Noble. A busy person – and who isn’t a busy person these days – will look for convenience.
Even Amazon’s website is more convenient compared to Barnes & Noble’s. According to Business Insider Amazon has 1.87 billion average monthly traffic and is the number one online shopping website. Business Insider also reported that “people may drop in for a browse at Barnes & Noble but they won’t make a dedicated trip to a bookstore. They don’t have the need and they don’t have the time. The way people shop changed, and that’s been detrimental for Barnes & Noble”. They’re just not keeping up with consumers’ wants.
When it comes to luxuries such as, books, businesses need to be able to adapt to what the consumers want. That is what Barnes and Noble’s second biggest form of competition – independent bookstores – does well. Consumer tastes are changing alongside the demand for a “unique experience and escape” and David Schick, the managing partner at Consumer Edge Research, thinks that independent bookstores are the answer. By not having to keep and run 629 stores across the U.S, independent bookstores have a lot of room to make their mark as a unique and different bookstore. Barnes & Noble doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room because, as a chain company, changes have to be made to all stores, not just a few.
On top of the competition from Amazon and independent bookstores, Barnes & Noble has really struggled to keep up with the emerging technology. They tried by releasing the Nook in 2009, but the results were lackluster. “It [the Nook] hasn’t panned out. The unit’s sales, which topped $500 million in 2014, have steadily declined to roughly $111 million as of the company’s 2018 fiscal year” stated an article on cbsnews.com. Neil Saunders reiterated the point when he said, “B&N would be better to scrap NOOK entirely and focus its efforts in developing a better online platform and apps to support its business”.
Barnes & Noble has thought about selling in the past, but revenue has never been this low and competition has only been rising. Is Barnes & Noble going to survive another year to try and make some changes or will this be it for the big brick-and-mortar bookseller? Only time and the marketplace will tell.