The State of Book Selling 2016

Amazon Books

Amazon’s first brick and mortar store

Yesterday I wrote about the trends of print and e-book sales and the future of both media and suggested that both will continue to be with us. I touched as well on textbooks and preferred media for these, indicating that students continue to favor print, and for good reason.

What does all this mean for book selling? It is interesting that indie bookstores reported a 4.7 percent gain in revenue this past year.It seems that “buy local” programs in many cities have contributed to this sales growth. Publishers Weekly reports that 60 new indie stores opened in 2015, continuing a trend from 2014 when 59 new stores opened. I’ve observed a trend of local booksellers becoming increasingly savvy at cultivating clientele, and making their stores attractive “third places” through author readings, book and writing groups, coffee and wine bars, and attention to service. Still, they struggle with obtaining credit for business expansion and also pricing practices that favor the large buyers.

This may be a crazy idea, but given that e-books will continue to be with us, I wonder if there might be a way people could purchase e-books through indie bookstores. If stores serve as a showroom for books, might there be a way they can benefit from e-book sales when people prefer this format? This means either a competitive alternative to Apple and Amazon, or some arrangement with these online sellers. One advantage of the latter would be a chance to support rather than compete with “buy local” movements. Probably won’t happen.

Barnes and Noble also showed a slight increase in profit with print and college sales offsetting losses in their Nook market. But this chain continues to retrench and it is facing a new challenge with Amazon opening its first brick and mortar store in Seattle and rumored to be planning additional openings. It will be interesting to see how “brick and mortar” Amazon competes with online Amazon!

What has been less covered but may be equally significant for Barnes and Noble is that Amazon has begun opening Campus Pick-up Points at various universities including UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, University of Cincinnati, Purdue University, and University of Massachusetts at Amherst. For now these simply serve as a pick up point for students ordering textbooks who may have difficulties receiving them at campus addresses. They also offer faster delivery of orders for Amazon Prime or Amazon Student members. This could be a serious challenge to Barnes and Noble as well. Nearly 30% of their revenues are in college sales.

As with the books we buy, where we buy them and in what form will continue to shape this industry going forward. The question of how important the physical community in which we do commerce is to the kinds of lives we want to lead will have a big part in determining the mix of local independent merchants, large retail concerns, and online sellers in our future.

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