Barnes & Noble blamed its poor performance last quarter on the election cycle, a shortage of blockbuster hits, and the decline of the coloring book fad in last week’s press release and conference call.
The excuses varied depending on who you asked and where you read. For example, the press release noted:
Comparable store sales declined 8.3% for the quarter largely due to lower traffic, as well as the decline in coloring books, artist supplies and last year’s best-selling album by Adele, which collectively accounted for nearly one third of the sales decline.
In the conference call, on the other hand, Riggio blamed the delcine on the election:
About eight or nine months ago, I was the first, we were the first retailers to talk about the effect of the election, this particular unprecedented election cycle and post-election goings-on. There is a profound effect of media on book sales. Many, many books get their start in the media, the newspapers and on television. There are precedents for this throughout the course of our history, when the media becomes preoccupied over a sustained period.
The book authors and the book subjects stop appearing on the evening news programs, certainly the commentator programs, great shows like CBS Sunday Morning, and even one of the biggest drivers of book sales, which is the morning news shows, the morning entertainment shows. All the talk now is about politics, and books have been starved of any presence there. We see cookbooks and health books and fashion and dieting – so, so many books become explosive as a result of their exposure on TV and in the newspapers. That has all but dried up.
Now in addition to that, there has been a measurable effect of this election that we noticed some time ago, and I’ve charted this over a long period of time. I was one to think that this would go away after the election, and it did just a little bit and our sales started to look like they were righting themselves and it seemed like people were going back to their normal lives. Then we had the inauguration and it started again, and even more fiercely than we had experienced before.
I don’t accept that everyone lost interest in books because they were devoting all their attention to the latest political developments; my media consumption didn’t change with the political season last year.
But even if that were the case then I wonder why B&N hasn’t adapted to the times and started promoting political thrillers and getting authors on tv shows to talk about politics.
Yes, there is almost no way to get a book published that quickly, much less dozens of books (Chuck Tingle could do it), but B&N has access to everyone’s back catalog, including decades of political thrillers as well as non-fiction titles.
There’s bound to be a few hundred titles B&N could promote out the wazoo – and then there are the potential tie-in sales.
So no, I don’t accept that B&N’s decline is unavoidable.
image by Tools of Men