Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2013 Issue

Barnes & Noble: Yesterday's Goliath Struggles to Survive

B&n04-13

If the typical, private bookseller is finding these to be complicated times for retail, then perhaps they can sympathize with their dreaded competitor from the 1990s, Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble swept through the new book business twenty years ago, leaving a string of failed private bookshops in their wake. Few could compete once the mega-store came to town, with its large selection, comfortable chairs for reading, coffee and pastries. For many, it was the booksellers' version of Wal-Mart vs. Main Street. We all know how that turned out.

Now, twenty years have passed, and it's Barnes & Noble that is fighting for its life. Amazon has stolen much of its sales by selling online. They do not carry the overhead of local stores, enabling them to sell for lower prices. Add to that Amazon's strategy of accepting low margins so as to dominate a business and it is hard for anyone to compete on price. With high volumes shipping from central locations, Amazon is also in the best position to stock the largest inventory and widest selection of titles. The tables have turned on B&N and now the world watches to see if they can find a way out of their predicament, or do they go the way of their once greatest rival, Borders.

As if this wasn't enough, a few years ago, Amazon began heavily promoting electronic books. They developed their Kindle e-reader and began selling e-books at prices even lower than their discounted print editions. A bad situation for B&N quickly became worse. A minority, but still significant percentage of book sales moved to this new, paper-free format.

So, Barnes & Noble reacted. They decided to go head to head with Amazon in this new form. That would not be easy – competing in a format even more suitable to internet retailing than was paper books, which had to be shipped. B&N's one advantage – instant gratification – would not be an advantage with e-books. Nonetheless, B&N felt they had one advantage – that of being able to display their e-readers and show customers how to use them. And then there was one more positive for B&N. Though this was not their field, they came out with a very good e-reader, one many consumers preferred to the Kindle. And, B&N quickly made their Nook even more – an electronic reader with features of a tablet computer, such as email and internet access. They had a product that could compete with Apple for the tablet market as well as Amazon for the e-reader market.

Barnes & Noble did a great job with this new medium, but still they suffered from one major disadvantage. B&N is small. They have nowhere near the financial clout of an Amazon or Apple. Their Nook was like Research in Motion's Blackberry competing against Apple's iPhone for the smart phone market. Or, like Main Street competing against Wal-Mart for retail goods. Size matters. It is hard to compete against the behemoths, and besides which, not many people thought of Barnes & Noble as a technology company. Sales early on were very good for the Nook, but as time has gone by, sales have declined, even if it is a very nice product. Sales of Nook e-readers and e-books dropped by 25% during the most recent holiday season. B&N simply does not have comparable marketing prowess to the giants.

Sales have slipped despite a sizable cash investment last year by Microsoft. B&N separated its Nook division from the rest of its business, drawing in $300 million from Microsoft, which is belatedly trying to catch Apple in the latest technology. If you had owned Barnes & Noble's stock before the Microsoft investment, you could have doubled your money when that news was announced. However, it has not been enough to stem the tide, and most of those gains in the company's stock disappeared as the year wore on. Meanwhile, Microsoft has developed its own tablet, though it is hardly setting the world on fire.

What is next for Barnes & Noble? There are lots of rumors. Reports are that B&N's founder and Chairman, Leonard Riggio, is contemplating making a bid for just the stores. The stores, though struggling, are still profitable and their all-important cash flow is positive. The Nook division, however, is losing money and burning cash, though it is a participant in tomorrow's technology, rather than yesterday's retailing. However, the losses have not stopped B&N from entering new deals with several Hollywood studios to obtain rights to videos for display on their Nooks. It's full speed ahead, even while losses mount. Some have speculated that Microsoft might make a bid for for the rest of the Nook division (it owns 16.8% already). Of course, by the time Microsoft gets around to investing in new technology, it's old technology. Can a PC-focused company save the Nook when it is unclear PCs can save themselves? Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Spring Auction. March 3, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Copper Printing Plate for "Marshall's Household Engraving of Washington." $500 to $1000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Important Documentary Painting Showing Baseball Great Ty Cobb in Cuba. $1,000 to $2,000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> <i>Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age</i>, Inscribed by Bill Wilson. $500 to $1,000
    <b>Leland Little: Important Spring Auction. March 3, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983), <i>Prise à l'hameçon.</i> $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Maurice Dufrène (French, 1876-1955), <i>Rayon des Soieries</i>. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> William Pope.L (American, b. 1955), <i>Intimacy Project</i>. $2,000 to $4,000
  • <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Collection of 131 Herbert Ponting gelatin silver contact prints of Antartica, £6000-8000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of several lots of Henri Cartier-Bresson gelatin silver prints, £200-300
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Vintage gelatin silver print of Diego Rivera by Leonard McCombe, £300-500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Sir John Herschel (April, 1867), £30,000-50,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, Love, 1864 (from the Norman album), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Lewis Carroll of Twyford School Eleven (Summer Term, 1859), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Lewis Carroll of Xie Kitchin as 'Dane' (Oxford, 1873), £500-800
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Calotype print (c1845) by Hill & Adamson of Lady Elizabeth (Rigby) Eastlake, £3000-4000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Group of 12 waxed paper negatives of Scottish scenes by Thomas Keith, mid-1850s, £3000-5000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of 15 lots of Roger Fenton salt prints of his work in the Crimea, mid-1850s, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Quarter plate ambrotype (c.1860s) with ethnographic portrait of a woman seated at a table, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Rare whole plate thermoplastic union case of the Landing of Columbus (c.1858),part of the John Hannavy collection, £1500-2000
  • <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>

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