Barnes and Noble, perhaps, is on its last stand.
THESE are trying times for almost everyone in the book business. Since 2002, the United States has lost roughly 500 independent bookstores — nearly one out of five. About 650 bookstores vanished when Borders went out of business last year.
No wonder that some New York publishers have gone so far as to sketch out what the industry might look like without Barnes & Noble. It’s not a happy thought for them: Certainly, there would be fewer places to sell books. Independents account for less than 10 percent of business, and Target, Walmart and the like carry far smaller selections than traditional bookstores.
Without Barnes & Noble, the publishers’ marketing proposition crumbles. The idea that publishers can spot, mold and publicize new talent, then get someone to buy books at prices that actually makes economic sense, suddenly seems a reach. Marketing books via Twitter, and relying on reviews, advertising and perhaps an appearance on the “Today” show doesn’t sound like a winning plan.
What publishers count on from bookstores is the browsing effect. Surveys indicate that only a third of the people who step into a bookstore and walk out with a book actually arrived with the specific desire to buy one.
“That display space they have in the store is really one of the most valuable places that exists in this country for communicating to the consumer that a book is a big deal,” said Madeline McIntosh, president of sales, operations and digital for Random House.
What’s more, sales of older books — the so-called backlist, which has traditionally accounted for anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the average big publisher’s sales — would suffer terribly.