- CFO Joseph Lombardi is cautious but guardedly optimistic about sales in the all-important fourth quarter, saying that “the hardcover book business has improved” but there have been “some recent mixed retail sales reports.”
- Following a slow second quarter, the third quarter saw a turnaround in sales. CEO Steve Riggio said that the increase in sales began with Bob Dylan’s new CD, Modern Times.
- Diane Setterfield’s The 13th Tale was “one of the most successful new hardcovers… The wonderful ghostly tale was our number one bestseller the first day it went on sale, and the book went on to break all previous Barnes & Noble sales records for a first-time novelist. Almost 60 days after publication, the book is still one of our top-selling titles, due to its word-of-mouth appeal.”
- Fiction bestsellers for the quarter were Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story, Nicholas Sparks’ Dear John, David Baldacci’s The Collectors, and “rising fiction star” Vince Flynn’s Act of Treason.
- On the nonfiction side, the bestsellers were John Grisham’s The Innocent Man, Bob Woodward’s State of Denial, Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, and Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion
- Looking at the fourth quarter, “Among the season’s best gift books, the standout is clearly Annie Leibovitz’s A Photographer’s Life, but Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook is off to a great start, as is the magnificent coffee table book called Rainforest.”
- In October, Barnes & Noble upped its discounts for shoppers who belong to its member program. The company expects this to help sales, but its inability to say just how the numbers might work out made investors nervous, the issue being that this plan could put a serious dent in the bookseller’s profit margin.
- Having said that, Barnes & Noble also noted that “margins continue to benefit from lower purchasing from book wholesalers, increased sales of our own publications, and an overall more efficient supply chain.” – i.e. those books published by Barnes & Noble are quite lucrative for the company.
I was reading about the recent second-quarter earnings report for Barnes & Noble as part of my day job and I realized how much insight the company’s quarterly conference call provides in terms of current trends in the book industry, as well as which books will be are most likely to be the headline-grabbing titles over the next few months. I may do this each quarter from now on, as I think it’s an interesting proxy for what’s going on in the book industry at a given point in time.The big trend so far this year is a lack of blockbuster titles as compared to years past. From Steve Riggio, Barnes & Noble CEO, on the Q2 conference call (courtesy Seeking Alpha):We look back at the first half of this year as one of the softest periods in recent memory for the book industry in terms of hardcover new releases. There were simply very few new hardcover books that generated media buzz or sustained sales by word-of-mouth recommendations.The lack of blockbusters is thrown into particularly stark light when compared to a year ago, when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out. Overall, sales were actually down from last year.Riggio called The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards “one of the fastest-selling trade paperbacks in our history.”Barnes & Noble also looked ahead to the books that they anticipate will be big in the third quarter of this year. In fiction, Frederick Forsyth, Anna Quinlan, Robert Harris, David Baldacci, Janet Evanovich, and Robert Parker have new books on the way. The company also singled out Mitch Albom’s For One More Day (Riggio said that Albom’s previous book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, “was the second-largest selling fiction book in our history”) and Charles Frazier’s 13 Moons, while The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld “are getting a lot of buzz.”In non-fiction, Barnes & Noble is anticipating big sales from Faith and Politics by Senator John Danforth, The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina by Frank Rich, Never Again: Securing America and Restoring Justice by John Ashcroft, The Confession by James McGreevey and Inside Bush’s White House, the Second Term by Bob Woodward “continuing his take on the Bush administration and the war.” Riggio also called John Grisham’s first non-fiction book, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town, “one of the most eagerly-awaited books we have seen in a very long time.”The company also highlighted several upcoming biographies and memoirs: Bob Newhart, Sandy Weil, Carly Fiorina, Ellen Burstyn and David Crosby. There’s also a “major new biography” on Andrew Carnegie and “the definitive book” on U2.Riggio said it “looks like a very strong season for cookbooks,” with the 75th edition of the Joy of Cooking, a new edition of The Bon Apetit Cookbook and new titles from Paula Dean, Rachel Ray, Emeril Lagasse and the Barefoot Contessa.
Every three months I’ve been looking at Barnes & Noble’s quarterly conference call to get some insight into recent book industry trends and to see which books were the big sellers over the past few months and which are expected to be big in the coming months. Staving off a post-Harry Potter hangover, B&N’s quarter ended November 3 was boosted by several titles that got major media attention, sending readers into stores to get in on the action.Here are the highlights from CEO Steve Riggio on the Q3 conference call (courtesy Seeking Alpha):The most important factor now “is the effect of media on the book industry and on the sales of individual titles.”The company was “pleasantly surprised when the third quarter opened quite strong with the release of Stephanie Meyer’s Eclipse, which became the fastest-selling teen novel in our history.” It just goes to show, people love vampires.”Media coverage of adult books was more extensive then typical, led by two shows, the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes and Oprah Winfrey.”After feature stories on 60 Minutes, the publicity for “Alan Greenspan’s The Age of Turbulence, Clarence Thomas’ My Grandfather’s Son and Joel Osteen’s Become a Better You, and Valerie Plame Wilson’s Fair Game shot those books onto the top of our bestseller list.” In other words, it was a good quarter for books with the author’s picture on the cover.Meanwhile, the backing of Oprah led to “phenomenal demand” for books like Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious Cookbook, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, Cathy Black’s Basic Black, and Michael Roizen’s YOU: Staying Young. In other words, self help and cookbooks remain in the Oprah wheelhouse. The “Book Club” lives on as well, “even sending classics such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera to the top of bestseller lists.”And the last of the big media booksellers turned out to be Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, whose shows helped make a bestseller of Colbert’s I Am America (And So Can You!).Moving on to fiction, “it was a particularly good quarter for new releases for brand name fiction writers and those included John Grisham, David Baldacci, Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson and the return of Ken Follett with his World Without End.”Of course, with big media being the hand that feeds the publishers, the writers strike could limit promotional opportunities. “We are already hearing of cancellations of writers that were scheduled to be on some of the major talk shows.””Nevertheless, several books by brand name writers with new and forthcoming titles including Sue Grafton, Jim Cramer, Steve Martin and Dean Ornish” are expected to do well in the coming months.
As we have every quarter for the last several, we’re looking at Barnes & Noble’s recent quarterly report to gauge the trends that are impacting the book industry – which books were big over the last few months and what’s expected for the months ahead.For the 4th quarter ended January 31st, it wasn’t pretty. Sales fell by -7.3% compared to the quarter a year ago. Barnes & Noble said that a drop in store traffic, not average ticket (the average amount spent by each shopper), was primarily responsible for the decline.What follows are insights gleaned from Barnes and Noble CEO Steve Riggio’s comments on the conference call discussing Q4 results. (Transcript provided by Seeking Alpha.)The original impetus for this regular feature was my noticing that Riggio liked, when laying out B&N’s results to Wall Street analysts, to share some details on which books had been flying off the shelves and which books he expected to be big sellers in the coming months. Direct from the mouth of the guy running the biggest brick and mortar bookstore chain in the world, it was some insider insight into what stories would soon be buzzing around the industry. However, over the last few quarters, Riggio has essentially stopped talking about books during these quarterly calls. It’s quite possible that he’s just trying to speed things along, but I can’t help but wonder if the enthusiastic talk of individual titles falls by the wayside as the retail environment gets more and more dire.Riggio called 2008 “by far the most challenging retail environment we’ve ever experienced.”It sounds like B&N is feeling the digital itch as Amazon gets aggrssive with the Kindle: “We also plan to return to the business of offering customers digital content inclusive of eBooks, newspapers and magazines. We have a large number of assets in place to enable us to sell digital content, our ecommerce platform is solid and scalable.” Riggio didn’t give further specifics but said, “we do have a wide range of initiatives in development.”
As we have every quarter for the last several, we’re looking at Barnes & Noble’s recent quarterly report to gauge the trends that are impacting the book industry – which books were big over the last few months and what’s expected for the months ahead.Sales were still down for the 1st quarter ended May 2nd, but not quite as bad as they’ve been in recent quarters. Overall, the decline was -3.5% from a year ago. “Store traffic was down throughout the quarter,” according to CFO Joseph Lombardi.After scarcely discussing individual titles or authors at all in recent quarters, the Barnes & Noble execs dropped quite a few names this time around.What follows are insights gleaned from Barnes and Noble CEO Steve Riggio’s comments on the conference call discussing Q1 results.Riggio highlighted the two new Barnes & Noble Recommends selections Dog on It by Spencer Quinn and Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas.He also had some interesting comments about the Barnes & Noble Recommends program saying that selected titles “often garner 30, 40% as much as 50% market share in initial weeks on sale,” meaning that B&N is responsible for a large chunk of the overall sales of those titles, and furthermore B&N finds “that those books go onto the bestseller lists of other national, local and regional booksellers.””Key site improvements” are expected to improve the performance of bn.com in the second half of the year.After purchasing ebook provider Fictionwise, B&N now says “the implication of a vastly greater amount of content both in our stores and onlineis exciting to us and has inspired us to develop some unique and innovative approaches to the user experience of buying and reading books.” There will be announcements on this later in the year.Finally, the fall lineup “actually looks quite strong or fairly strong.””In addition to the already announced Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, which has been expected or anticipated eagerly by booksellers for a number of years, many well known authors, some who have not published books in the last few years have new books coming out. And it includes Jon Krakauer [Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman], Pat Conroy [South of Broad], John Irving [Last Night in Twisted River], Glenn Beck, Garrison Keillor [Life Among the Lutherans], Margaret Atwood [The Year of the Flood], Barbara Kingsolver [The Lacuna], Jeff Shaara, Edward Rutherfurd, Robert Jordan and a posthumous novel by Michael Crichton [Pirate Latitudes].”
As we have every quarter for the last several, we’re looking at Barnes & Noble’s recent quarterly report to gauge the trends that are impacting the book industry – which books were big over the last few months and what’s expected for the months ahead.This quarter has been rather dramatic for the big chains. In March, Borders took an emergency cash infusion (with many strings attached) from a large hedge fund shareholder just to stay afloat. This came on the heels of a new strategy initiative from the chain, which we dubbed “The Froot Loop Gambit,” leading to some great discussion and a follow-up post about “knowledge products.” Two months on, Borders is out of the woods for the short term, but appears unlikely to survive as a standalone company in the long term. Right now, most are speculating that Borders will be swallowed up by Barnes and Noble.As such, our regular look at Barnes and Noble quarterly updates may offer an even broader view of the book industry as soon as next quarter. Interesting times. In the meantime, what follows are insights gleaned from Barnes and Noble CEO Steve Riggio’s comments on the quarterly conference call for the quarter ended May 5th. (Transcript provided by Seeking Alpha.) Interestingly, this quarter was much lighter on the discussion of individual books that have done well recently or that are expected to do well in current and future quarters. It’s hard to know what to make of this change in tone other than the fact that there appears to be paucity of blockbusters this year compared to the Potter-mania, political memoirs, and self-help tomes that fueled sales in 2007.First quarter numbers compared unfavorably to a year ago when Oprah-backed positive thinking pablum The Secret was a massive seller.Looking ahead, the second quarter will face very tough comparisons to Q2 2007 thanks to the huge sales of Harry Potter a year ago. “the quarter should end with some excitement with the publication of Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer and we think that’s the most anticipated book of this year, if not actually in a couple of years. Even though it’s a teen book, it has wide appeal.”April was difficult but May started out better: “We had a number of big books in the first couple weeks, including Barbara Walters’ Audition, the Stephanie Meyer adult fiction book The Host and the continued strength of the Last Lecture.”As for Riggio’s answer to the Borders question: “We’ve put together a team of senior management people and financial advisors to study the feasibility of a transaction with Borders. We’ll provide no further comments about any discussions we may or may not have.”