About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

evolution in action

So I think it's safe to say that the main beneficiary of the ongoing disappearing act at Borders has been Amazon or other internet outlets for buying books (and probably not borders.com as one of those!).

Nielsen Bookscan gives breakdowns on sales in retail/brick and mortar channels as against sales in discount & other which includes primarily Amazon and bn.com. (Target and K-Mart are also in that line but for the typical new release sf/f hardcover these outlets aren't a factor.)

So we can look at the breakdown on launch week for those two lines and see where books are being sold. This also separates out e-book sales. Whatever people are doing there, wherever they're buying e-books, we are able from this to look solely at market share for new books in print format.

January 2010, launch week for Simon Green's Good, Bad & The Uncanny
Retail market share 54%

March 2010, launch week for Elizabeth Moon's Oath of Fealty:
Retail market share 44%

April 2010, launch week for Charlaine Harris' Dead & Gone paperback
Retail market share 43%

May 2010, launch week for Charlaine Harris' Dead in the Familly
Retail market share 39%
[and this is a book that would have been competing with mass merchandisers like Target and K-Mart as well]

January 2011, launch week for Simon Green's Hard Day's Knight
Retail market share 54%

these are all books that came out before the Borders implosion, a January 2011 release like Simon's would have been the last one for

March 2011, launch week for Elizabeth Moon's Kings of the North
Retail market share 32%

April 2011, launch week for Jack Campbell's Dreadnaught
Retail market share 32%

April 2011, launch week for Charlaine Harris Dead in the Family paperback
Retail market share 40%

OK, if you want to you can poke holes left and right in the argument I'm making. The only direct year-over-year 450-Borders-operating-normally vs. 200-Borders-in-bankruptcy comparison I'm making is with Elizabeth Moon, and one comparison is a point, not even a line and hardly a definitive trend. It's an anecdote. I don't know exactly how many of the copies that sold a year ago sold at the 250 Borders that disappeared over the year following.

But I've been in the business for 25 years, and I consider the year-over-year drop in retail market share for Elizabeth Moon to be jaw-dropping. It's not like people couldn't buy cheaper hardcovers on Amazon a year ago. It's not like the economy's in dramatically different shape now than a year ago, it's pretty shitty in both instances. And somehow or other, brick-and-mortar booksellers are losing huge market share to internet, and I'd suspect that it's the biggest such drop in percentage terms since Amazon arrived in business fifteen years ago, almost has to be since if you lose 10% of your market share every year for fifteen years you don't have any business left to lose. And the one big difference between brick-and-mortar and Amazon now vs. last year is those 250 Borders that went up and vanished, and it just seems to me to be abundantly clear that most of those shoppers haven't decided to drive an extra mile to find a B&N.

Let's just say I'll keep an eye on this!

And if you're looking at this and wondering if/how Borders can come up with a plan to reorganize, I don't think you'd feel encouraged.


Elizabeth Moon said...

Scary. Though the leap in e-book sales saved at least some of the bacon.

Barbara Kloss said...

Thank you for this post and the figures.

This is all very, very interesting...

Brian Niemeier said...

Looks like the vultures are circling. There are apparently offers on the table for 225 stores, and B&N has made a proposal for ten percent of the bankrupt franchises.

LeeAnn said...

Personally, for the past couple of years, I've been a faithful Borders customer - every week they would send me coupons, and every week I would go in and buy at least one paperback.

There were two stores I would normally go to - one small Borders Express in the local mall, and a large anchor Borders about 40 miles from me.

The local mall store is still around, but the anchor store is one that is closing, as are all of the other anchor stores that I know of within a 50 mile radius.

That said, I would probably have continued to go to the local mall store weekly, except, I got a nook at Christmas.

Basically, I haven't bought a paper book, or *been in a bookstore* since I got my e-reader.

It feels kind of weird, but it's the exact same transition that I went through with mp3's - since I started buying albums of mp3's, I haven't been in a music store - and that's been over a decade now. My friends and I used to go to the music stores every week and buy albums - now it's all online.