Once criticized for its role in the decline of local booksellers, retail giant Barnes & Noble is struggling in a shrinking print market that claimed longtime rival Borders less than two years ago.
The chain, which boasts 689 retail stores (along with 674 college stores), plans to cut that number by one-third over the next decade at a rate of about 20 locations year. That will leave Barnes & Noble with about 450 to 500 stores, down from a peak of 726 in 2008. In the past month or so, the company has shuttered locations in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
“It’s a good business model,” Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble’s retail group, tells The Wall Street Journal. “You have to adjust your overhead, and get smart with smart systems. Is it what it used to be when you were opening 80 stores a year and dropping stores everywhere? Probably not. It’s different. But every business evolves.”
Although saddled with continuing losses on the Nook and surprised by a 11-percent decline in holiday sales, B&N remains profitable, generating $317 million in earnings last year. But the Journal contends the next two years “will go a long way in defining the bookseller’s future,” as we’ll begin to see how the print and digital markets shake out. A further decline in print sales could accelerate the rate of store closings.