More Bookstore Stupidity

In the last few days, several stories have popped up in various newspapers about the Barnes & Noble decision to close its B. Dalton outlet in Laredo, Texas, leaving the small city [population 220,000] with no bookstore at all, neither a chain store, nor an independent. That will make Laredo the largest town or city in the United States without a full-service bookstore, an absolutely “wonderful” Christmas present for the book-lovers of Laredo.

In past blogs I’ve pointed out the rather numerous short-comings of Borders. Now it’s the turn of Barnes & Noble. The B&N decision comes as part of its strategy to close all the remaining B. Dalton outlets in 2010, a decision from on corporate high to close high-cost, low-profit small mall outlet stores. Frankly, in the case of B&N, it makes far more sense than it did for Borders to downsize the number of Waldenbooks outlets, since from my industry sources, the word has always been that Waldenbooks was profitable until Borders started fiddling with their operations, while the Dalton outlets were, as a whole, marginal.

Even so, the B&N decision in the case of Laredo, and perhaps in other individual cases as well, is stupid. They have a local monopoly that is in the black, if not necessarily highly profitable, and B&N has been quoted as saying that Laredo will support a small but full-sized B&N — but that B&N won’t be able to open such a store for at least 18 months. Generally speaking, a city with a population of over 100,000 is profitable for the chain bookstores, and even with Laredo’s high level of Spanish-speakers, a store there should be profitable, especially with no competition.

Let’s get this straight. For bookkeeping and corporate decision-making reasons, B&N will close a profitable local outlet well before a successor B&N can be opened. In other words, they’ll destroy or at least erode their customer base…and then have to rebuild it, if they can, a year later.

All right, they have to close all the B. Daltons for whatever reasons. Then why not simply re-label the Dalton store in Laredo as a B&N Express or some such with signs saying that there will be a full-sized B&N coming before long, and add the Laredo store to the B&N supply system. Surely, it can’t be that hard. Then B&N can still claim it’s closed down all the Daltons in order to keep the stockholders or creditors or whoever happy and not anger an entire reading community.

Unfortunately, this is just another example of where pre-determined decisions are trading short-term profit considerations for longer-term profitability — and undermining the future customer base by literally chasing away readers. Exactly how much sense does this make in terms of future operations? Not to mention that it makes little sense at all from a societal point of view when reading levels among younger Americans are dropping.

6 Responses to “More Bookstore Stupidity”

  1. hob says:

    I'm curious, as an Author have you ever been tempted to, either by yourself or in partnership with your career colleagues, to open a bookshop?
    Perhaps cut out the competition and middlemen so to speak, (…no sorry only Mr Modesitt available today I'm afraid–yes it is odd, but you know how those wacky publishers are, always getting mixed up…). You'll pardon the incredibly bad humor I hope.
    As for your post, could it be possible that Barnes and noble wish to test if their online ordering of books would rise if no physical retail outlet was available…

  2. L.E. Modesitt says:

    I can honestly say that I have never been tempted to open a bookstore, for more reasons than I'd want to count. I am incredibly grateful to both the brave independents — and to the chain stores — because without them I would not be able to do what I love. That doesn't mean I won't call them on stupidity because it hurts me as well as them.

  3. Nate says:

    I am usually kind of a fan of B&N, but this decision really sucks. If I was a reader in Laredo, I would be tempted to never shop at a Barnes and Noble again.

    Sure demonstrates that business is not, in fact, all about the customer.

  4. Mike G. says:

    Not to defend BN's decision, which is pretty bad for Laredo, but often "downsizing" shutdowns where a plant, location, or brand is shutdown lose a lot of business or labour benefits if exceptions are made.

    I know that about 10 years ago when an employer of mine was shutting down an office, 2 of the key employees couldn't be transferred out or there would have been negative consequences for the shutdown.

    It may be that the B.Dalton shutdown is hindered by similar restrictions.

    If that's the case, the stoopid may not all be caused by BN.

  5. David says:

    I have about 2200 fantasy and sci-fi books. Probably fewer than 50 of them were bought at a walk-in bookstore. Almost all of them were acquired through Amazon or eBay and delivered at the post office. Of course, I live in the hills — very very rural (goats in the pasture, bears in the woods, shootin' at some food…), and there are no chain bookstores nearby. Hillsboro, which is a village about 4 or 5 miles away, has a small public library.

  6. Sean says:

    Could the closing before a full store have been completed due to leasing requirements? If the property owner would not sign a contract for less than say, 5 years, would it have made sense to continue operating the store concurrently or buy out the rest of the lease in 18 months or wind operations down at the end of its current lease? Obviously, this is making the assumption that something like this is a factor, but there could be external forces prompting the gap between store closing and opening a full-sized B&N.