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Berginski: Barnes & Noble on the way out?

By Staff | May 2, 2014

When my brother, Jacob, and I go to the mall in Minot, one of the first places we go to isn’t the Food Court. (That’s a very thinly-veiled fat joke, by the way.) We go to Barnes & Noble.

Why? For several reasons: the “nerd” in me likes to peruse the science-fiction section; it’s relatively quiet and comfortable; I love the smell of coffee, even if I can’t drink it; and there’s something to be said about a tangible book versus the ease and convenience of digital books.

But it’s possible that someday that may no longer happen. Since 2012, B&N has closed an average of 20 stores per year, and as much as I don’t want to think about it, it’s not hard to see why.

First, Amazon is assaulting them on two fronts. Why walk through a physical, brick-and-mortar store when pointing and clicking is so much easier? It isn’t just tangible books that could be purchased through Amazon, but also digital books, music and movies.

Speaking of digital things, B&N’s foray into the e-reader/tablet world, the “Nook,” can’t stand up to the competition. When TechRadar came out with its top 10 best tablets list for this year, the Nook wasn’t even on it. Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD and HDX, however, were. Other tablets on the market, including Apple’s latest iPads and several Android tablets, have been killing the Nook, too, in terms of sales.

Second, other outlets. At one point, Barnes & Noble was at the top of the food chain. In the past if B&N moved into an area with already-established bookstores, the other stores would have to a) add other items to keep consumer interest (which B&N is doing), b) lower their prices and risk losing profits, c) find other avenues in which to stay competitive or d) die. But now, one can easily buy a book at places like Wal-Mart and Costco. If I wanted to, I could go out to Shopko right now and purchase a book at a slightly lower price.

Third, sales. B&N said in a CNNMoney article that it lost $2 billion in 4th quarter, fiscal year 2013 sales, or about 10 percent. The Nook fared even worse the previous quarter, with sales down 50 percent. Considering the previous paragraphs, the numbers aren’t surprising, by any means, but they still don’t paint a very good picture.

It is possible that Barnes & Noble won’t be completely out. B&N does have stakes in some college bookstores, and college students do need textbooks. Those bookstores, or the websites associated with them, will be one of the first places students will look for the books they need for courses. But for people not in colleges who like going into B&N stores, or who intend to buy a book from a B&N store at some point in the future, that may not be a comfort.

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