After two years of gains following the crash of 2008, the Publishers Weekly Stock Index pulled back slightly in 2011, falling 1.1%. Stock prices rose at only five companies while falling at nine; Hastings Entertainment had the largest loss in the year with its stock price plunging 73.8%.

Hastings had the biggest gain in 2010, but the multimedia retailer has posted disappointing results through the first nine months of its most recent fiscal year, with sales down almost 5% and a deeper loss compared to the same period in 2010. The second biggest loser was another retailer, Books-A-Million, whose stock price fell 58.1% and is down nearly 64% since 2009. Like Hastings, through the first nine months of 2011 BAM posted a higher loss on declining sales, with some of the loss due to expenses associated with taking over more than 40 Borders stores. BAM wasn’t expecting to see results from those new stores until the fourth quarter, something that could give its stock price a lift early in 2012.

It wasn’t only bricks-and-mortar stores that took a stock hit last year. High-flying Amazon came back to earth a bit late in 2011 as investors were spooked by the e-tailer’s margins and its outlook, which calls for heavy investments that could hurt short-term results. In what looked to be nearly an impossibility in the middle of 2011 (its stock price had a 52-week high of $246.71), Amazon’s stock price finished 2011 below where it was at the end of 2010, although it was still 29% ahead of 2009. Amazon’s major bookseller competitor, Barnes & Noble, finished the year with a modest price increase after a volatile year in which B&N’s stock price benefited from takeover speculation, which ended with the $204 million investment from Liberty Media.

CBS had the largest price increase of all PWSI members, driven by strength in its broadcasting group, even as Simon & Schuster improved profits during the year. McGraw-Hill’s stock price benefited from the decision—backed by a number of large institutional shareholders—to split up the company, featuring a spinoff of McGraw-Hill Education that is expected to be completed this year.

In general, investors favored companies that generate content over those that sell it or manufacture it in an increasingly digital industry. And, of course, the PWSI lost a member this year with the liquidation of Borders Group.

Stock Watch, 2011

Company Dec. 31, 2010 Dec. 30, 2011 % Change
CBS 19.05 27.14 42.5%
McGraw-Hill Cos. 36.41 44.97 23.5
Pearson 15.89 18.87 18.7
Barnes & Noble 14.15 14.48 2.3
Scholastic 29.54 29.97 1.4
Disney 37.51 37.50 -0.03
John Wiley 45.24 44.40 -1.8
Amazon 180.00 173.10 -3.8
Reed Elsevier 33.63 32.36 -3.8
R.R. Donnelley 17.47 14.43 -17.4
Courier Corp. 15.52 11.75 -24.2
Educational Dev. Corp. 6.85 5.01 -26.8
Books-A-Million 5.80 2.43 -58.1
Hasting Ent. 6.12 1.60 -73.8
PWSI 463.18 458.01 -1.1%
Dow Jones Aver. 11,577.51 12,217.56 5.5