No, Amazon is Not the "Fifth Largest Bookstore Chain" in the US
Most recently Amazon Books inspired Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly to write that Amazon would soon own the fifth largest bookstore chain.
Amazon has seven bookstores and plans to open six more by the end of this year, and that is enough for Milliot to put Amazon in fifth place. Me, I think that puts Amazon in seventh place, at best – and it would rank even lower if you included Follett and B&N Edu.
A combination of bookstore attrition and its own startup efforts will make Amazon Books the fifth largest general bookstore chain in the U.S. based on the number of outlets. As BookExpo began, Amazon Books had opened seven outlets with confirmed plans to open six more before the end of the year.
Amazon Books’ accession couldn’t have been accomplished without the steady decline in the number of bookstore chains since 1991. In that year, there were 11 chains that had 13 or more outlets, with total outlets topping 3,000. In 2017, the five chains on our list had 1,076 outlets. Just since 2011 the store count has fallen by 32%.
Amazon’s plans for its bricks-and-mortar business are murky, but the company has ramped up its store openings since it launched the first one in November 2015. Though Amazon took 10 months between opening its first store in Seattle and its second in San Diego, Calif., the pace of openings and announced openings has quickened. The e-commerce giant opened two outlets in 2016 and four so far in 2017—the most recent being its Columbus Circle location in New York City. It has announced plans for stores in Bellevue, Wash.; Walnut Creek, Calif., San Jose, Calif., Los Angeles; Paramus, N.J.; and for a second in New York City. If all goes according to plan, Amazon will open 10 stores in 2017.
Its aggressive store-opening plans notwithstanding, Amazon has a way to go to jump ahead of third place Half Price Books. The Dallas-based retailer, which sells a mix of used and new titles, has had a net increase of eight stores since 2011. It closed three locations earlier this year, but has plans to open two new outlets (in St. Charles, Mo., and Tyler, Tex.) later in 2017.
PW also posted a chart which I reorganized so it fit better. You may notice it is missing a few names:
|Barnes & Noble
|Barnes & Noble
|Family Christian Stores
|Half Price Books
|Half Price Books
Two of the chains missing from this list are Follett and B&N Edu. They operate chains of college bookstores and thus arguably do not belong on this list.
So let’s skip B&N Edu and Follett and focus on the other bookstore chains which would have bumped Amazon down to seventh place.
Edit: Or even lower. Publishers Lunch noted on Twitter that Books Inc has 11 branches to Amazon’s seven open bookstores. They also mentioned Deseret Books, which has 33 bookstores across the western US. (Like Cokesbury, Deseret Books is owned by a church.)
Second edit: There’s also Family Christian competitor Lifeway, which has 174 stores.
Milliot missed Hudson News, which operates a chain of airport newsstands and bookstores, and he left out a franchise chain of used books stores called Wall of Books.
It’s hard to say how many of the nearly 100 Hudson locations should be counted as bookstores (more than 13, I’d wager) but we do know that Wall of Books has sixteen locations across the eastern US (including one in DC).
Founded by Shane Gottwals in 2012, Wall of Books offers a training program for owners. The investment is significant for an individual but not nearly as expensive as required for a fast food franchise: Start-up costs can approach $85,000.
While one could argue that Wall of Books is not a chain, I am amazed by the fact that one can now reasonably say the fifth largest bookstore chain in the US consists of used books stores.
Think of what that says about the decline in physical bookstores.
The industry has withered to such a degree that a tiny chain is now in the top five.
That is a sign of just how many books we are buying online in 2017.
image by variationblogr