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.
To a large extent, things have gone from bad to worse for the big booksellers. Sales for the 3rd quarter ended November 1st were down -4.4% from the same quarter a year ago. Store traffic at Barnes & Noble has been declining all year, and in the 3rd quarter, average ticket (i.e., the average amount spent per visit) started falling as well. Having said that, Barnes & Noble is in better shape than rival Borders which has been at risk of running out of cash this year. Barnes & Noble is now focusing on controlling costs, keeping inventory low, and increasing supply change efficiency.
What follows are insights gleaned from Barnes and Noble CEO Steve Riggio’s comments on the conference call discussing Q3 results. (Transcript provided by Seeking Alpha.)
- Riggio noted that this has been a busy year for news, leaving less room for books. Sales have “been affected by lack of coverage of books both in the mainstream media and on cable, news and talk radio, which were all fully devoted to coverage of the Presidential election and then the economic crisis which hit in September.”
- Riggio claims that inventory reductions are not hurting the shopping experience (though I’d imagine they are hurting publishers): “While inventory levels have decreased, we have maintained outstanding breadth of selection in our stores and online. In fact our in stock standards for what we call core titles have never been higher. We have the books the people need and that they ask for everyday.”
- Elaborating further on the effect of media coverage on the book industry recently, Riggio said, “Well we’ve obviously seen it in books by President-Elect Barack Obama, which has been fantastic. Publishers actually lightened up their September and October publishing lists because they knew that the election would dominate the media. Obviously no one forecasted the economy as well to dominate the media, but we’re hoping that things get back on track as we enter the holidays and into the January season so that we can continue to get media interest in books.”
- Continuing last quarter’s trend of not mentioning specific titles (one wonders if the economic challenges are sapping the enthusiasm Riggio had typically shared regarding specific titles in past quarters), Riggio only mentioned a pair of books, the new book from megachurch preacher Rick Warren and Jon Meacham’s presidential biography, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.
- Riggio and Barnes & Noble see a silver lining in the tough times facing shoppers heading into the holidays, however. “Books are fairly affordable and we hope that as consumers get into the holiday season they recognize that a purchase of $15 or $20 or $25 can give someone a fairly memorable gift.”