Quarterly Report: eReader Excitement

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 dipped by -5% from a year ago for the quarter ended August 1st, consistent with the declines seen in prior quarters. “Store traffic was down throughout the quarter,” according to CFO Joseph Lombardi. As has been the case as the company has focused more on the tough economy and other aspects of the business, there wasn't much discussion of individual titles this year. What follows are insights gleaned from Lombardi and Barnes and Noble CEO Steve Riggio’s comments on the conference call discussing Q1 results. Lombardi pointed out that the same quarter a year ago had big sellers in Stephanie Meyers The Host, Barbara Walters Audition, and Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, while sales from "bestsellers were lower this year." According to Lombardi, "the fall lineup looks fairly strong, with Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol being the big third quarter title." Barnes and Noble is pushing hard to get on the ebook bandwagon. Riggio said, "The most important development of the quarter was the launch of our e-bookstore on July 20th," adding that the company had the "top two most downloaded apps in the iTunes store... our e-reader app, which continues to be the number one book app, and the Barnes & Noble bookstore app, which enables customers to browse, search, and snap photos of... covers of products and to buy them with ease." Riggio also outlined efforts to get more titles into the e-bookstore, along with a selection of newspapers and magazines, the unmentioned target being the Amazon Kindle store which has surged to a big lead in offering a large number of titles.

Quarterly Report: Fall Book List ‘Strong’

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]."

Quarterly Report: No Book Talk, Just Bad News

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."

Quarterly Report: Holidays and Silver Linings

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."

Quarterly Report: Harry Potter Hangover

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.As was noted last quarter, amid a challenging environment for both of the big chains, there was much speculation that Barnes & Noble would snap up struggling Borders. Now, it appears that Barnes & Noble has lost interest in going that route. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Barnes & Noble's decision not to bid reflects in part the tight lending markets that likely would make it difficult to arrange bank financing. The retailer was also known to be concerned about the length of some of the leases that Borders has signed."Beyond that, Barnes & Noble's Q2 was surprisingly ok, surpassing Wall Street's admittedly dim view of its prospects by keeping a tight lid on costs.What follows are insights gleaned from Barnes and Noble CEO Steve Riggio's comments on the quarterly conference call for the quarter ended August 2nd. (Transcript provided by Seeking Alpha.) The Harry Potter hangover was in full effect in Q2, as it marked a year since the series' final book came out. Up against the boy wizard-fueled numbers of a year ago, Barnes & Noble's revenue dipped by -1.6% from a year ago. Just like last quarter, Riggio didn't really discuss any individual titles, though in the past he has been known to run down top sellers and look ahead to highly anticipated books. It may just be that there's not much out there getting the book exec excited these days. A couple of other highlights:Riggio explains that the book business may not be in as bad shape as many assume: "The closer examination of sales will reveal that even in this soft retail environment across America, the book business is stubbornly holding up. If we normalized our sales without the impact of Harry Potter and its add on sales last year, throw in the double digit decline we're still experiencing in the music business, the rest of our business was relatively flat so as we've said for many years, the book business is a relatively stable business."The Olympics are expected to take a small but noticeable bite out of sales in Q3, as folks stay glued to their TVs and put off shopping and reading.

Quarterly Report: The Merger Question

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."

Quarterly Report: Tough Year Ahead

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. With a recession threatening, Borders faltering, and some even suggesting a merger between the two big book chains, 2008 is shaping up to be a rocky year for the book retailers.Barnes & Noble's fourth quarter (which ended on February 2nd) was slightly worse than what analysts had expected, but the stock hasn't been punished on Wall Street. Here are the highlights from CFO Joseph J. Lombardi from the March 20th, Q4 conference call (courtesy Seeking Alpha):"Fiction and the genres had a strong quarter, especially graphic novels and romance. Hardcover sales were driven by a host of familiar names, including Sue Grafton, Dean Koontz, Ken Follett, Stephen King, and a holdover from the spring, Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns.""Both John Grisham and James Patterson had two bestsellers; Grisham with Playing with Pizza and The Appeal, and Patterson with Quickie and Double Cross. Trade paper fiction was driven primarily by movie tie-ins and selections from Oprah Winfrey. Movie tie-ins included The Kite Runner, Atonement, and I Am Legend, and the Oprah recommendations for Pillars of the Earth and Love in the Time of Cholera drove the sales of those titles." Pretty amazing that Grisham's The Appeal was a bestseller when it came out only five days before the quarter ended. Meanwhile, Oprah continues to move books."In non-fiction, areas of strength included biography, humor, health and diet books, as well as the continuing success of Rhonda Byrne's The Secret. Other key hardcover titles included Stephen Colbert's I Am America, Tom Brokaw's Boom!, The Dangerous Book for Boys and its sequel, The Daring Book for Girls, and Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. Non-fiction movie tie-ins also included in non-fiction were Into The Wild and Charlie Wilson's War." The continued success of The Secret is somewhat disheartening.Aggressive discounts associated with Barnes & Noble's membership programs continue to eat into the chain's gross margins, but interestingly, so did "bestseller markdowns associated with the seventh and final Harry Potter book," though to a lesser extent.In 2008, Barnes & Noble expects to face a double whammy of "recessionary pressures in this uncertain economic environment" and very challenging comparisons against the final Harry Potter book and improved hardcover sales last year.

Quarterly Report: Media Heavyweights Drive Book Sales

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.

Quarterly Report: Potter Rides into the Sunset

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. Barnes & Noble's second quarter ended August 4th. Almost certainly, it'll be the last time that the bookstore chain will experience the rush of sales generated by Harry Potter, and the company made the most of it, riding the Boy Wizard to results that came in at the high end of its forecast and meeting Wall Street estimates that had been padded with high expectations for the final Potter installment. With Potter coming out late in the quarter, however, the vaunted "Potter effect" was only in play for the final two weeks of the period.Here are the highlights from CEO Steve Riggio on the Q2 conference call (courtesy Seeking Alpha):Harry Potter drove sales higher but knocked Barnes & Noble's profit margin lower thanks to "significant discounting." The book was marked down 40% instead of the usual 30%.More Harry - selling well but tailing off: "The book sold even better than our expectations in its first days on sale, but in the following weeks, sales of the book tailed off quite a bit, as it was available in abundant quantity in a large number of mass merchants and non-book store retailers. Nevertheless, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows continues to sell well. It remains our number one best selling hard cover title, and we expect to sell hundreds of thousands of copies through the end of the year."But perhaps the Potter party isn't over yet: "We believe that sales of the entire series are going to continue to dominate children's bestseller lists for many, many years. While the Harry Potter cycle may be complete for those who have read the entire series, it is yet to be discovered by millions of readers now and in the years ahead."Moving beyond Potter, Barnes & Noble saw "a mix of expected bestsellers from brand name writers and the emergence of a few sleepers." The expected: Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns, Janet Evanovich's Lean Mean Thirteen and James Patterson's two books, The Quickie and The 6th Target. The sleepers: Conn and Hal Iggulden's The Dangerous Book for Boys. Thomas Cathcart's Plato and A Platypus Walked Into a Bar, Denise Jackson's It's All About Him, and Elin Hilderbrand's Barefoot. The fourth Barnes & Noble Recommends selection, Paulette Giles' Stormy Weather also saw "strong sales."Riggio also mentioned a recently published book, Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer. Apparently vampires never go out of style because according to Riggio, the book has "catapulted Stephanie Meyer into the ranks of mega bestselling authors. It outsold Harry Potter, toppled it from the bestseller list and it actually became the fastest-selling teen novel in our history."And finally, Riggio previewed third quarter releases that are expected to be big: Bill Clinton's Giving, Alan Greenspan's The Age of Turbulence, the late David Halberstam's final book, The Coldest Winter, John Grisham's Playing for Pizza, Alice Sebold's The Almost Moon, and the tie-in book for the Ken Burns WWII PBS documentary airing this fall.

Quarterly Report: Book Industry Trends

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. Barnes & Noble's first quarter ended May 5th. Here are the highlights from CEO Steve Riggio on the Q1 conference call (courtesy Seeking Alpha):In keeping with an ongoing trend, Barnes & Noble's margins were pressured as the chain continues to discount heavily to stave off competition from the likes of Wal-Mart and from Amazon's popular Amazon Prime program. Nonetheless, Wall Street seemed to like the overall numbers and pushed the stock higher.Sales in both the stores and online were better than expected. "Both benefited from a better new release schedule than we've seen in some time.""Rhonda Byrne's The Secret has the unique distinction of being our bestselling title in hardcover, audio book and DVD."Riggio said that Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist was the third straight "Barnes & Noble Recommends" selection to "become an instant fiction bestseller upon publication."Meanwhile, Oprah drove sales of Sydney Poitier's Measure of a Man and Cormac McCarthy's The Road.The quarter's non-fiction bestsellers were Einstein by Walter Isaacson and In an Instant by Bob Woodruff.Looking ahead, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will hit the shelves at the end of Barnes & Noble's Q2. Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns just debuted "with very strong sales." There's also new fiction on the way from James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Robert Parker, and Ian McEwen (On Chesil Beach).On the non-fiction side of the ledger, new release The Reagan Diaries is already selling well. A pair of books on Hillary Clinton are coming shortly: A Woman in Charge by Carl Bernstein and Her Way by Jeff Garth. "We expect, of course, many more titles by and about the candidates for the presidential election season to be coming over the next year to 15 months," Riggio said.