NYTimes: B&N isn’t Going Away ‘Cuz eBooks Are Declining and Paperbacks are Making a Comeback

4705604430_b110ec4115_bEarlier this week the NYTimes carried on the biennial tradition of declaring the revival of print when it used the following stats to explain B&N wasn’t going away:

The company’s results come at a time when bookstores may be making a comeback and e-books, which have been perceived as print killers, are losing popularity.

In the first 10 months of 2015, according to data gathered by the Association of American Publishers:

• E-book sales in the country fell 12.3 percent.

• Paperback book sales grew 12.4 percent.

Yeah, the NYTimes is basically repeating the same mistake it made six months ago. It is confusing the ebook sales reported by the 45% of the industry represented by the AAP with the entirety of the market, and is misusing those stats to draw erroneous conclusions.

And that’s not the only mistake in this piece.

The NYTimes also said that B&N was sticking around because:

The Bookstore Industry Rebounds

Over all, bookstore sales rose 2.5 percent last year, to $11.17 billion, from $10.89 billion in 2014, according to the Census Bureau. It is the first time that bookstore sales have grown since 2007.

FYI: B&N has reported declining revenues for the past umpteenth years, so the fact that revenues across the bookstore retail industry are up doesn’t seem to be helping any. Also, last year’s bump in revenues has been widely attributed to coloring books (i.e. it’s a fluke).

And that’s not the most ridiculous reason Alexandra Alter gave for why B&N is sticking around.

You might want to sit down:

The Mom-and-Pop Stores

Independent stores may be the beneficiaries of the drop in Barnes & Noble’s retail base. The decline, along with other trends like the resurgence of print and the “shop local” movement, has most likely contributed to a resurgence in independent bookstores. After decades of decline, the number of independent bookstores is on the rise, according to membership data gathered by the American Booksellers Association:

• In 2010, there were 1,410 independent bookstores in 1,660 locations;

• In 2015, there were 1,712 indie stores in 2,227 locations.

Wait, so indies moving into the market niches abandoned by big-box booksellers like B&N is supposed to be a sign that B&N is sticking around?

Could someone explain that, because to me it makes about as much sense as if they had said that Ben Carson dropping out of the race for the GOP nomination guaranteed his chances of a victory in November.

It just doesn’t add up.

In fact, there’s nothing in the NYTimes piece that supports the premise that B&N will stick around. It’s just a collection of randomly gathered factoids about the book industry with no real connection to B&N or the premise that Alter is trying to argue.


image by orionpozo

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. puzzled5 March, 2016

    Maybe Alexandra Alter is the pen name for one of those apps the newspapers are now using to automatically write stories from fact feeds.

    1. Nate Hoffelder5 March, 2016

      Heh. Maybe, but if so that bot also has a Twitter presence. That is very thorough work on the part of the NYTimes staff.

  2. Darryl5 March, 2016

    These stories are growing increasingly more shrill. There is no real argument. There are no real facts, simply very faulty statistics. And I doubt even the “journalist” writing the article really believes the premise.

    1. Bridget McKenna6 March, 2016

      Darryl, I doubt the “journalist” understands much involved in the story. If she did, she’d have done a better job of throwing those statistics up against the wall. And where was the editor to throw that story back and tell her to write something that made sense? The “Gray Lady” is in serious decline these days.

  3. Mackay Bell6 March, 2016

    The NYT missed another hopeful trend for Barnes and Noble. Sales at McDonalds have been rising due to having longer hours for their breakfast menu. So it goes to reason that B&N, the McDonalds of books, will also see improved sales. Not to menu, more breakfast means more coffee and that always helps the print market.

  4. Henry Wood6 March, 2016

    Well now, I don’t really care what the NY Times or any other authoritative source concerning sales/declining sales/increasing sales/paperback hardbacks – or whatever. Just let me tell you this as a 72 years old lifelong book reader:
    My house is absolutely full of thousands of books. (Yes, I estimate *thousands* after I counted a couple of stacks reaching from floor to ceiling then multiplied them by the uncounted stacks surrounding them.) There are hardbacks, paperbacks, rare editions, first editions … collections of valuable books … all sorts of books … of almost every subject under the sun – *except* science fiction! – sorry!

    *BUT*, there is no way physical books will ever make a comeback into my home again. I still avidly read reviews of all sorts and keep a note in my Evernote app on either my PC, or Tablet, or Smartphone of books I *must* get and I usually get around to them in time.

    *BUT*, I no longer buy physical books. Each and every book I have bought over the past three to four years has always been a digital edition of the book I wanted to read. And the reason … ???

    I am a *READER* … a very avid reader … I read more books now than I ever read when I was reading and collecting physical, printed paper books. My constant companion now is my Kindle Voyage, the very *best* e-reader I have so far found (and I’ve tried a few!) and every time I have a few spare minutes, I open my Kindle Voyage. If it’s during a busy time of day I will take a quick dip in to whatever takes my fancy, but at night, when I tuck myself up in bed, the Kindle comes into its own:

    It *is* perfection! Read and read and read … then just pause … close the cover, put my bedside kettle on for a cup of tea and once brewed, pick up my Kindle and start reading again. Eventually I sleep. Often I wake in the night – insomniac, huh! – I no longer lay on my back and stare at the ceiling … I don’t know why, but I find it much easier to pick up the Kindle and immediately get right back to reading where I left off, compared to years ago when I would waken, let all sorts of thoughts ramble through my head, maybe pick up a book from the pile at my bedside and try to get into it … *but* … it never, ever was so simple to just dive right back into reading the same as my Kindle now offers me. I don’t know why, but there it is.

    And therefore for me, paperbacks/hardbacks/physical books will *never* make a comeback in my house. It has come to the point where if I’m looking for a particular book and there is no e-book edition of it, I now just shrug and think,
    “So what – you’ve got plenty reading already actually*on* your Kindle and *1000s* of books in your Calibre library. You are never, ever gonna read them all, so why worry about another book … ???”

    1. Darryl6 March, 2016

      I couldn’t agree with you more!

    2. Mike Hall6 March, 2016

      Yes to this.

      I actually gave up reading fiction (but not rereading) for a few years because space ran out. Even after biting the bullet, donating thousands of books to charity and half my SF collection to my elder son all I achieved was to reduce the paperbacks from double to single stacked on the shelves. E-books transformed my life and I’m now reading more than ever before, and have not bought a paper fiction book for years and don’t expect ever to do so again.

      I do buy non fiction in paper form where I feel that print is still the best technology for that particular title – mainly due to illustrations/diagrams – but this is causing its own space/storage problems.

      1. Henry Wood6 March, 2016

        “I do buy non fiction in paper form where I feel that print is still the best technology for that particular title – mainly due to illustrations/diagrams – but this is causing its own space/storage problems.”

        With non fiction I was fortunate to be able to afford a Kindle DX which I had to buy from Amazon US because they did not sell the DX in the UK where I live. It does handle most of the WWII books that I am very interested in, but as you say, print is the very best technology for some titles, especially where photographs, maps etc., are concerned. If only … oooohh! … if only Kindle brought out an e-reader with the same screen style of the Voyage or Paperlight, *but* the same size as a Kindle DX, I’d be first in the queue for two of them no matter what the price. (Why two? Just in case I dropped one!) 🙂

        1. Mackay Bell6 March, 2016

          Apparently, you just haven’t discovered adult coloring books. I assure you that will completely change your mind about reading ebooks.

          1. puzzled7 March, 2016

            I did a colouring book on my Kindle.

            Now it’s a colour kindle…

    3. Dude6 March, 2016

      A fair point and one I agree with in terms of encouraging reading, but one that also heavily relies on the false idea that all books are equal.

  5. David north6 March, 2016

    And it’s…the NYT.

    They have an already well-known distorted representation in how they present books and reviews. This is simply yet another piece by them that shares those distortions


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