Quarterly Report: No Book Talk, Just Bad News

March 19, 2009 | 1 book mentioned 2 2 min read

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.”

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. "Initiatives in development" is corporate-speak for saying "we were totally caught blindsided by the whole Kindle thing and are now scrambling to get some sort of online thing going before we slide even further into irrelevance." If B&N had anything tangible and market-ready right now, he would have offered up plenty of specifics. Let's call it right now: B&N is toast.

  2. Riggio said money was saved because "We’re delivering books on a more just-in-time basis and making sure that the inventory both on the shelf and in our warehouse is as sufficient as possible. So, not only did we maintain title selection but we were able to increase turns by reducing the amount of copies, particularly in distribution center or excess inventory that’s typically on the shelf that you don’t need.") Neat juggling act; will the drop in "excess inventory" push prices up further, and will it hurt the second-hand market?

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