Thursday, January 28, 2010

Do the Kindle and the iPad ring the final deathknell for the traditional bookstore?

There is a fundamental change already underway in the world of books and it just accelerated yesterday. I don't know whether to be happy to sad.

I have a Kindle. I love it, but I know I am a bit of a geek. To me, evidence that the world of books was shifting forever came when my mother (who is over 70 but how much over is private!) stated that she wanted a Kindle. And then yesterday Steve Jobs announced the iPad which has my kids friends all a'twitter (actually a'texting would be more accurate since Twitter is for old people) about ebooks now.

A couple of days ago I starting researching Amazon in FirstRain and, thinking about this phenomenon, went hunting for interesting content. As with most of our users, I tend to read certain sources and types of content more than others because of I believe they have better insight and are more reliable. FirstRain helps me sort through the noise easily by choosing the content type or sources I want to read. By selecting blogs only, I noticed a story from November titled Amazon (AMZN): “The best is still ahead”

“Amazon announced that its Kindle e-book reader is now its most popular selling item, both in units and in dollars. That led to a big acceleration in revenue growth (28%, the fastest in five quarters), while earnings leaped 67%.”

Expectations are that the holiday season was extremely successful for Amazon as online retailers, by most accounts, took share from brick-and-mortar retailers. The economic disruptions of the past two years have actually meant an acceleration in consumers’ adoption and use of the Internet as a retail channel.

Amazon's earnings call is today so I'll be looking for the transcript on FirstRain tonight (I can't take the time to listen but I will speed read it) since this change to ebooks is such a ground shift in my way of consuming books - which I do voraciously.

But Amazon has bigger plans than my reading addiction. "Amazon is no longer content to be the world's biggest e-tailer. Its new goal is to become the world's leading retailer. Period.”

Aside from the other markets that Amazon has aspirations to dominate, I believe the company will own the market for books, both hard copy and e-books, in the next few years. Sadly the independent bookstore will all but disappear - although maybe there is room for one large single chain for the older readers who like to walk the isles, touch and smell (Yes, one of our engineers at FirstRain actually used the word smell) the books.

From looking into this in our system, it looks like the winner here will be Barnes & Noble (BKS), but I don’t believe the company will grow organically. Over the next few years, Barnes & Noble can prosper by becoming the brick and mortar bookstore choice and Amazon and Apple will garner the rest of the market share for books with both online hard copy sales and e-book sales.

Borders is definitely in decline. It will close an estimated 240 stores during the three months ending January 31, 2010 for a total of roughly 300 Waldenbooks stores over the past 13 months, or close to 70% of all Waldenbooks outlets! Retail analysts at Davidowitz & Associates give Borders Group a 50-50 chance of survival. (Added note - right after I posted this I saw the CEO has announced he is leaving and they are cutting 10% of their corporate staff).

From the Barnes & Noble website, as of October 2009, the company operates 775 stores. However, keep in mind the number of stores Barnes & Noble had at the end of 2004 was 820 so they are also down a bit. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that analysts expect an avalanche of bookstore closings this year. A new report by Grant Thornton report says 10,000 retail stores will have closed by the end of 2009. Of that number, 400 will be bookstores, which is a 500% increase in bookstore closings over 2008.

Within large department stores like WalMart and Target, the small numbers of book titles are probably safe and books will continue to be sold in niche markets like the point-of-sale newsstands in the airport where Hudson Booksellers seems to have most of the market - unless everyone who flys gets an iPad the way everyone who flys today has a cell phone .

Sadly used bookstores will probably disappear as well as no industry undermined by its greatest partisans survives for very long. Remember when CD sales plunged after music could be downloaded? Today, we can find any used book in the World for pennies on the dollar on Amazon and on other sites. “With the Internet, nothing is ever lost. That’s the good news, and that’s the bad news" says author Wendy Lesser in a New York Times piece by David Streitfeld (12/28/08).” But would this mean when I buy a first edition as a gift (as I did for a dear friend's 50th birthday last year) I would not be able to hold it first? Hmmm... not sure about that.

What is certain is that the earthquake for books has hit, the after shocks and still coming - the iPad being the latest - and ten years from now I will probably only be buying the really hard to find history books I read in hard copy. Everything else will be coming from the cloud... another area Amazon wants to dominate but for another post.

1 comment:

sfgirl said...

I hate to think that everything will be computerized soon. I'd rather go to a bookstore and read a real book than strain my eyes at a screen all day.

There was an error in this gadget