Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2011 Issue

It's Been a Tough Month for Large Book Retailers

Bordersbye

Borders bids its final farewell.

This has not been a good month for large, chain bookstores, especially so for their investors. Physical retailing has been battling online selling for a decade, and physical books have been battling electronic ones for the past two years. Neither has fared well. Both will survive for many years to come, but will continue to lose market share to their electronic counterparts. It makes for a difficult business, and tough investment.

 

A little over a month ago, the number one bricks and mortar book retailer, Barnes and Noble, its stock long in the doldrums, received some good news. Liberty Media, noted for buying up troubled companies, made an offer of $17 per share. Now this may not seem exciting for a company whose share price reached $45 five years ago, but it had spent most of the year under $15, and briefly hit an all-time low under $10. However, Liberty was less interested in its stores than its Nook electronic reader, a surprising success after belatedly entering the market way after Amazon's Kindle. Kindle remains by far the leader, but the Nook has become a solid number two, garnering around a quarter of the market and growing.

 

However, it appears that Liberty and Barnes and Noble could not agree on the value of the Nook, so Liberty withdrew its takeover bid and instead purchased $204 million worth of B&N preferred stock. It pays a hefty 7.75% dividend and can be converted into a 16.6% share of the company. This provides the company with welcome cash, but the dividend rate it must pay is high, and a conversion of the preferred stock to common will result in shareholder dilution. The investment may be good for the company, but not so good for shareholders. The stock price quickly dropped to $10, and recently was trading for $11. That $17 offer doesn't look so bad now.

 

For the number two physical retailer of books, there is really no more to say. In February, Borders filed for bankruptcy protection, and in July announced that no buyer for the chain could be found. Instead, it would close all of its stores and liquidate its assets. That liquidation should be completed by the end of this month, bringing a final end to Borders' 40-year career. You may find some bargains in the next few days at your local Borders store as discounts are large, but what is likely to be left now are the dregs. You can also find Borders stock at a cheap price. It has ranged between 2 and 4 cents a share the past few weeks. At its peak it cost $37. Don't waste your money. It isn't worth 2 cents. Eventually, it will settle at zero.

 

The third largest bricks and mortar book retailer in America, soon to be number two, is attempting to pick up some sales from the Borders bankruptcy. Books-A-Million, the southern-based bookstore chain, attempted to purchase the leases, fixtures, and inventory of 30 defunct Borders locations. The two could not reach a deal, but Books-A-Million will be taking over the leases of 14 closing Borders locations. BAM (as Books-A-Million is also known) is looking to expand its footprint north. Stores in Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio are reportedly among those sought to be taken over.

 

While Books-A-Million has been swimming against the tide by actually expanding its physical presence, it still has not been an easy time for the growing chain. The firm recently reported a $2.9 million loss for the second quarter, compared to a $1.9 million gain for the same quarter in the previous year. Its recent stock price, below $2.50, is approaching historic lows. That's about one-quarter of its price of 20 years ago, not a great long-term investment. The troubling results showed an 11.4% decline in overall revenue and a 12.9% decline in sales at same stores year over year. CEO Clyde Anderson stated, "A soft publishing lineup, the effect of e-book migration and the impact of Border's liquidation all contributed to the decline in comparable-store sales."

 

However, there remains one positive book investment story - Amazon.com. The largest online bookseller, and leader in the electronic book field, continues to trade around the $200 per share level, near its record high price reached earlier this year. Indeed, if you bought Borders stock for $37 in 1998, you could have purchased Amazon for half that price. Now Amazon stock is worth $200 and Borders 2 cents. The challenge for investors today is to figure out which companies are the next Amazon, and which are the next… Borders.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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