As I did three months ago, I once again delved into Barnes & Noble’s quarterly conference call to get some insight into the latest book industry trends. Here are the highlights: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 DelusionLooking 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.