Is Barnes & Noble Getting Out Of The Bookstore Faster Than We Thought?

Listen to any recent Barnes & Noble earnings call and you'll hear lots about the potential of the Nook e-reader and some online magic, a little about college bookstores (where students still often have to buy dead-tree textbooks) and the rare reference to non-college physical bookstores that is generally about how well they demonstrate the Nook. Any talk about those bookstores selling actual soon-to-be-dog-eared books? Not so much. In the chain's January 3 holiday sales update, the retail segment reported a 10.9 percent decrease from the prior year's identical period. The kicker? That was followed by "bookstore sales of core products exceeded the company's expectations." Those are some low—or perhaps realistic—expectations. Still, we envisioned the chain's 689 retail bookstores (along with its 674 college bookstores) to stick around for at least a year or two longer. Perhaps not.

A wonderful piece on the website of book publisher Melville House details a surprisingly large number of Barnes & Noble store closings that started after Thanksgiving 2012. The piece also referenced a nice non-intuitive observation from The New York Times that bookstore closings are hurting e-book sales. It's the same showrooming mentality that physical chains complain about. Without the brick-and-mortar showrooms, shoppers can't as easily get hooked on a book that they'll then want to download.