Monday, June 30, 2014

In B&N Report, Print Books Declining Gradually

I predicted a 30 percent decline in sales of print books this year, but sales are not declining nearly that fast. I looked at the latest report from Barnes & Noble to try to pick out the trends. The report showed a same-store sales decline of 6 percent year over year. That isn’t exactly the rate of decline in printed books, but it must be close. There was a 12 percent increase in toy sales, a decline in Nook hardware sales in-store, and 3 percent of stores closed. Sales declined faster at the web site, but slower at the college bookstores. Putting it all together, my guess is this translates to a one-year 8 percent decline in sales of printed books and magazines. The financial results are worse than the sales numbers suggest, though. Every Barnes & Noble division lost money, suggesting that the current level of operations couldn’t be sustained even if demand were to stabilize.

But of course, demand for print will continue to decline, and if you extrapolate a trend of -8%, that is an industry declining by half in nine years. It is easy to see that readers intend to buy fewer printed books, and they certainly can do so, if you look at the perennial studies that show that readers read only a small fraction of the books they buy. The best answer I can suggest is that publishers must find ways to make printed books more physically appealing, especially for the Christmas shopping season, so that shoppers who pick up a book will not think of it as just an ordinary book.