February 12, 2013

Retail consultant Doug Stephens, author of “The Retail Revival” coming out in March, predicts that mainstream booksellers will “become a thing of the past.” Print book sales did dropped 9% in the U.S. last year, according to market researcher Nielsen BookScan, and they are off 22% from 2007. That’s why Barnes & Noble (B&N) expects to close a third of its book stores over the next decade.

But B&N also reports that only a handful of stores (20) lose money, less than 3% of the total. They report that their stores remain comfortably profitable, generating $317 million in earnings. So, what’s happening? There seems to be a healthy market for print and digital. Digital is a super convenient format. It is expanding the market for fiction.

But many people still love print books and book stores. As one Barnes & Noble executive stated in a recent WSJ story, “You go to Barnes & Noble to forget about your everyday issues, to stay a while and relax. When you go to Bed Bath & Beyond you don’t sit down on the floor and curl up with your blender and your kid.”

The marketing lesson here: New products don’t necessarily mean the death of old ones. The key remains, understanding what your customer values and delivering it to them, in the format they want it.

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