Association of American Publishers

Why Barnes & Noble should go from bookstore to Nookstore

April 13, 2011: 5:00 AM ET

With 2013 looming as a tipping point for ebooks, the struggling giant should regroup behind its Nook ebook business, fast.

Nook display counter

In the late 1990s, the book industry was upended by the rise of the superstore. With big footprints in exurban shopping centers, Barnes & Noble (BKS) and Borders (BGP) superstores offered what many shopping-mall-sized and downtown mom and pop stores couldn't: aisles upon aisles of hardbacks, paperbacks and magazines, and cushy cafés to lounge around and read them in, for hours on end. Thousands of independent booksellers found themselves outclassed by such accoutrements, and went out of business.

But what seemed like a secular shift turned out to be a mere blip in the history of selling the printed word; today, the once-mighty superstores are struggling mightily. Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection back in February and is in the midst of closing 30% of its stores. Barnes & Noble, once thought indomitable, is hurting, too. With its stock down nearly 80% over the last five years, the retailer still hasn't been able to find a willing buyer since it put itself on the market last August, and it may end its search altogether.

The road ahead for Barnes & Noble will prove tough. Few brick and mortar companies have successfully negotiated the choppy waters to safe digital harbors. But Barnes & Noble, unlike Borders, has one bright spot going for it. That bright spot, in fact, might one day be Barnes & Noble, period. And that bright spot is, of course, the Nook ereader and ebook business. More

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