Digital Book World posted an excellent article today about the Barnes & Noble elephant in the room at DBW 2013.

The big takeaway from this article was this statistic:

“According to the most recent Codex survey, online selling accounts for 61 percent of book sales, but only 7 percent of discovery.”

That’s huge. I’m one of those 61 percent. Sure, I buy all my books online, but I find new books and authors by browsing my local Barnes & Noble. And what happens if that local Barnes & Noble goes away? It’s not looking good for them as a business right now. Well, I’m confident readers will figure out a way to find books, but there will be a gap until then.

Another good quote comes from Peter Hildick-Smith, CEO of Codex Group:

“Physical retail works if you protect it … Movie producers do [protect movie theaters]. I would argue publishers are not doing enough to help bookstores.”

I completely agree. B&N and the publishers have a vested interest in keeping the company alive and healthy. Earlier this month, I wrote about this on our sister site, GadgeTell.

So …. why  doing as much as they could? (Or, as Hildick-Smith suggested, as much as they should?)



  1. Autumn, Maybe I’m old fashioned. I do use all those sources as well, but I still like the experience of wandering down a shelf of books to see what covers jump out at me. From Codex’ study, I’m guessing I’m not alone.

    But yes, we’ll adapt.

  2. Like Autumn, I don’t really discover books at brick-and-mortar stores anymore. But until very recently (a year ago, maybe), I definitely did discover a lot there. The larger point, I think, is that Peter Hildick-Smith of Codex Group really has done a lot of research showing that a lot of people still use bookstores as their primary discovery tool. Watch the video featuring Laura that we embedded in the post. She makes some good points about that fact, and also about the fact that although there are a ton of online discovery startups, no one really owns that space quite yet, because no one has really figured out exactly how to do it.

  3. Okay, Dan, now I’m curious. What changed for you a year ago? Why did you stop discovering books at brick-and-mortar stores? Studies are good, but they don’t always get to the underlying anecdotal reasons for why people do what they do.

  4. The article is right when it suggests that publishers should do more to help independent bookstores survive. The owner of one complained to me that, when a book took off and became a bestseller, his sales often dropped because publishers were giving large chains such hefty discounts, that he couldn’t compete. His customers weren’t just going to Amazon to get a lower price, they were going Costco and Walmart. And neither Costco nor Walmart is the sort of place people go to discover new books. They’re too bleak, too crowded, and too noisy, as well as devoid of any place to sit and read.

    Authors can get around discovery issues by approaching those positioned to give a book publicity with the sort of audience that’s likely to find it interesting.

    But even that grows harder as the landscape changes. My Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments is a guide for teen girls facing hospitalization and fearful of what may happen. When I discovered that the health sciences librarian who’d helped me with some research was active in Girl Scouts, I thought, “Oh, the Girl Scouts will be a perfect way to reach girls who’d like this book.”

    Not so. The world has changed a lot since I was involved in Boy Scouts. Then, there was a monthly magazine, Boy’s Life, that I read from cover to cover. I suspect the Girl Scouts had something similar, but that’s no more. Sadly, many organizations have lost print-based ways of reaching their audience without effectively replacing them with Internet-based ones.

    That changing landscape often makes it much more difficult to reach potential readers. In the case of my book, I sent a copy to the medical editor for Oprah’s magazine. If that works, it’ll work very well. If it doesn’t, the alternatives seem few and far between.

    We live in what one Chinese proverb called “interesting times,” by which is meant changing and difficult times.

  5. What discovery? I work near a suburban B&N and on lunch break I browsed the science fiction looking for something new. After ignoring the fantasy, series, and movietv tie-ins there was nothing remaining; Nada of interest. I’d read just about the whole range of science fiction they offered. Their mystery section is almost all series. Maybe fiction or biography would have something new and unknown to me. But what are the odds?

    B&N is no place to discover.

  6. My husband and I also used to use B & N as a showroom when we first got our ereaders. I think part of that was just habit. Going to the book store was part of the routine. But then as our Kindles got filled up, the trips tapered off. We didn’t get more busy we just got used to the convenience.

    Finding new books to read is not a problem on the Internet. I don’t need to haunt the book store looking for new releases any more. I use fictfact, ereaderiq, Amazon, and friends to find books to read. I don’t need B & N anymore.

  7. ————————-
    “Something is seriously missing with online retail discovery. It’s not working,” said Hildick-Smith.
    I’d venture to say that book discovery metrics depend on the ebook stores used. Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature is spot on for me, and the more I buy from them, the more I discover.
    Other stores, like, don’t even come close to this type of reading recommendations.

  8. I’ve never found B&N very brow-sable for my interests. My local Borders did a better job at displaying and shelving books, and carried a wider selection of nonfiction titles.

    But even before Borders imploded, I probably discovered more books at my library.

    Now, I’ve got young children on those store and library visits, so I save my book browsing for the web. First stop is my local OverDrive catalogs for new books added, followed by a check on Goodreads for the ratings to see if it’s worth my time. I also have a few review sites in my RSS feed, and they tend to trigger most of my purchases (after checking the two OverDrive catalogs first).

    So my only loss with B&N would be browsing Children’s books. I do like to fully read picture books before buying – there are sometimes unpleasant surprises when I don’t.

  9. Juli – I pretty much feel the same way as Diane, in terms of what she mentioned in her comment. Because while it’s true that my schedule keeps me from doing things like window shopping and just wandering around in retail districts, I also don’t feel that brick-and-mortar bookstores are really necessary for discovery anymore.

    Incidentally, the reason I pointed out Laura Owen’s video clip was because I find the results of Hildick-Smith’s research genuinely interesting – it’s almost surprising to me, in fact, to hear that so many people (supposedly) still rely on brick-and-mortar shops to discover new books. As Diane mentioned, there are so many places to learn about books online – an endless number of sites, really.

    Personally, I don’t necessarily rely on the popular standbys, like Goodreads, for instance. I’m just as likely to discover a book I really want to read from a Twitter or Facebook feed, or a newspaper article, or a post on a blog that has might not have anything to do with books.

    Of course, I’m the type of person who reads all sorts of things, all the time – magazines, websites, blogs, etc. So I’m bound to discover a dozen new things I’m interested in – books or just about anything else – any day of the week. But not everyone is as obsessive about reading, of course. And so it makes sense that a lot of people would feel the need for a trusted and well-curated source from which to learn about new things, like books. I definitely understand that.

    Then again, as Bree pointed out, Barnes & Noble alone isn’t necessarily the best source. for that. And not just because they may or may not organize their books in an intuitive way, but because their selection is very limited, relatively speaking. The only books you’ll ever discover there are books that were chosen by a very small group of buyers. And I’ve never liked the idea of someone else effectively “choosing” my media for me, you know? I want to know about everything that’s out there, so I can make a more informed decision for myself. That’s just not possible if you limit yourself to B&N, or any other bookstore chain, for that matter. But it is on the Internet, to a degree at least.

  10. Gee, maybe there’s some mysterious connection between bookstores going out of business and people who only go there to discover books they can buy online. D’ya think?

    Here’s a new concept for you: if you discover a book at a bookstore, buy it there!

  11. Either way, bricks-and-mortar bookstores still have a place. It’s just up to the industry to define what that place is. And not being a US citizen, I don’t know about this, but does B&N stock Kindles for sale? iPads? Or is it all Nooks? Because I’m sure they could do great biz as ereader retailers if they allow other hardware through the door. Or even accessories if the pain of selling competitors’ devices is too much. If they did this, they wouldn’t be the first company to compete head-to-head against their own clients – look at Microsoft.

    Now the ebook revolution has triumphed, I’m becoming a protector of the old ecosystem. Not through punitive DRM or other sops to the publishing industry, but through preserving the print book, bookshops and libraries. These should coexist with ebooks, not be supplanted by them. It would be a shame if B&N dragged the whole business model down with them just because they can’t get it right.

  12. Are we not the norm? The fact that we are reading or writing for or commenting on this blog indicates that we are a) online savvy and b) interested in e-books. It may be that the studies aren’t studying us or that we are a relatively small sub-set of the study. I don’t really believe that, but I wonder. Either that or the study is just plain wrong (also possible).

    I’m asking because I’m honestly puzzled. I do want bookstores to survive. Maybe just because of fond memories of when I was a kid, but that doesn’t change me wanting it.

    @Roberta, your concept certainly isn’t novel, but since I only read e-books now, it’s not really feasible for me, or for the other people who prefer to read electronically. Part of why I want bookstores to survive is that I recognize that other people want to read paper books. Good for them. I don’t want their access to what they love to go away. Browsing for an e-book online is one thing. I’m suspecting the paper lovers don’t find browsing online for a paper book to be terribly satisfying.

    @xendula, you are absolutely correct. Amazon’s recommendations are better than anyone else’s. The reason I don’t buy from B&N even when I find a book in their store I want to read? Their website is so much worse than Amazon’s. B&N has it within their power to fix that one.

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