In an upbeat and optimistic keynote speech about the book market at the annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers, Barnes & Noble chairman Len Riggio said the industry is on the cusp of “transformational growth” led by the sale of digital content, and he urged publishers to produce different kinds of e-books ranging from novellas to books that can be updated. He said it was wrong to view bookselling and publishing as a “zero sum game” in which the only way to grow is to grab market share, with a limit to the number of books people will buy. Riggio said he sees the digital marketplace expanding at a greater pace than many analysts, and said the sale of e-books is adding new customers and is just not replacing bound books. With the addition of e-books, B&N’s long tail is getting even longer, Riggio said. He noted that during the peak two-week holiday period not only did digital sales soar but comp sales of print books rose as well.
As bullish as Riggio is on e-books, he told publishers B&N remains committed to operating its network of stores. He reiterated comments that the bricks-and-mortar stores are crucial to the retailer’s strategy of selling the Nook family of devices and related content. “Our members who own a Nook are buying more than 60% more book units in total, and are spending an average of 120% more with Barnes & Noble,”. Riggio said. Customers have bought “millions of devices,” Riggio said, explaining that some customers come in to a store, browse the shelves and buy an e-book and sometimes buy both an e-book and print book.
He was glad publishers had come to value the importance of full service bookstores and once again predicted that as the mass market paperback fades mass merchants will either downsize or abandon their sale of books. The new bookselling landscape will likely feature, in addition to B&N, smaller format stores and specialty stores as well as independents. Riggio said, telling publishers that he is more confident than ever that booksellers and publishers are aligned.
In urging publishers to experiment with different kinds of e-content, Riggio noted that sales of B&N’s Spark Notes study guides are $20 million annually despite the fact B&N gives away information found in the guides. With the limitless amount of information available on the Internet, customers are looking for publishers to help rationalize that content.
He said he becomes excited and frustrated by the how much there is to do today and with the amount of possibilities that exist. “There is lots of work to be done,” he said. “Let’s get it on.”