Publishing Market Update; Vol. 3, Issue 4

 Barnes & Noble Reports Solid Growth 

B&N CEO James Daunt reported in an interview with Publishers Weekly that despite a slow December due to the omicron COVID variant, B&N stores were trending 5%-6% above pre-pandemic 2019 numbers.  Daunt cited two factors that drove increases in overall book sales: backlist sales and BookTok.  BookTok seems to have ignited the interest of young people in books, with teenagers and young adults responding to the recent hashtag-related social media marketing trend.

Daunt also credited the hasty store remodeling that occurred during the pandemic as a source of increased foot traffic and corresponding product sales.  While that effort was done mostly with existing furniture and fixtures, B&N is now taking about 30-40 stores through a more comprehensive remodel, with the plan to update all locations as soon as feasible.

Amazon Shutters

Well, its bookstores, anyway.  Amazon has announced the closing of all Amazon Books locations, as well as Amazon 4-Star stores and Amazon Pop-Ups—approximately 68 physical locations in all.  The company says it will focus on its Amazon Fresh stores, as well as locations of its 2017 acquisition, Whole Foods, and the further development of its “Just Walk Out” contactless purchasing technology.

Even with only 24 outlets, Amazon Books had become one of the largest bookstore chains in the U.S., with store sizes ranging from 3,500 to 6,000 square feet and stocking 5,000-6,000 titles. Amazon first announced its plans to open physical bookstores in 2015, causing plenty of buzz—both good and bad—throughout the industry.  But the chain never made more than a negligible impact on overall bookstore sales.

Penguin Random House Has Record Year

Shocker: the biggest publisher in the world had a good year.  PRH ended 2021 up 6% in global revenue over the pandemically positive 2020 results, with earnings jumping 9.2%.  Parent company Bertelsmann was tight-lipped about its disputed attempt to acquire Simon & Schuster, with the Department of Justice lawsuit expected to be decided by a federal judge this fall.

In his annual letter, CEO Markus Dohle reported that the best-selling title for PRH US in 2021 was James Clear’s Atomic Habits, a 2018 release, which supports B&N’s report that backlists titles are driving much of the industry growth. 

Weekly Numbers—March 2022

March book sales struggled week-over-week, compared to rather strong 2021 numbers. Two circumstances helped push 2022 numbers lower. Last year, Easter came early – and the Easter Bunny must like to give away books.  Also, last March there was a massive run on Dr. Suess books, after the decision by Dr. Suess Enterprises to cancel six Dr. Suess titles due to perceived racially insensitive content.  For example, last year, in the week ending March 6, 2021, Green Eggs and Ham (not one of the canceled titles) sold 105,000 copies compared to just 28,000 during the same period this year.

Here are the weekly results:

          Week ended March 5, 2022: Down 16.2%

          Week ended March 12, 2022: Down 8.3%%

          Week ended March 19, 2022: Down 12.8%

          Week ended March 26, 2022: Down 19.8%

Yet, as we say at church this time of year, it’s Friday…but Sunday is coming.  We’ll see next month if book sales can be resurrected with a late Easter. 

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