As independent booksellers predicted a few weeks ago (PW, Nov. 7), executives at the nation's major bookstore chains are also counting on a breadth of selection rather than a few big bestsellers to drive holiday sales this year.

"No blockbusters are emerging," Barnes & Noble CEO Steve Riggio said in a conference call discussing third-quarter results. Riggio said he expects a wide range of titles to do well this year, which should push up same-store sales at B&N superstores in the final quarter. In Borders's review of third-quarter results, executives also pointed to the depth of titles as the strength of this holiday's offerings, noting that the top 100 titles this year are stronger than the top 100 in 2004, even if there is no Da Vinci Codeor America (the Book). And Books-A-Million president Sandy Cochran expects a number of movie tie-ins and new fiction to be hot sellers.

Among the titles noted by Riggio as possible strong sellers this year were The Year of Magical Thinking, Predator, At First Sight and The Camel Club. The cookbook and giftbook segments have a number of good titles, Riggio said. The children's segment has been strong all year, Riggio said, and he expects B&N to sell lots of copies of the many editions of Narnia the stores are carrying this season.

Borders also tapped Magical Thinking as a potential big book this season, along with The March, Teacher Man and Team of Rivals. On the less literary side, Borders predicted that James Patterson's new Mary, Mary will be a big holiday item.

Coming off a weak third quarter, in which a 15% decline in music comparable-store sales offset a 3% increase in book sales, Borders's objective for the fourth quarter is to drive book sales to try to minimize the impact of declining music sales, which Borders executives expect to fall again in the final period.

Borders had the slowest growth of the big chains in the third period, with total revenue up only 0.5%. Superstore sales were up 1.6%, to $572.9 million, led by good backlist book sales. Sales at the Walden specialty group fell 8.1%, to $138.4 million, as the chain was hurt by sluggish bestseller sales and slower mall traffic. The international group had a disappointing quarter as weakness in the U.K. limited the sales increase to 6%.

B&N had a 3.7% sales gain in the quarter as superstore sales rose about 4%, to $930.5 million. B& had a good quarter, with sales up 8%, to $99.4 million, while sales at Dalton fell 21%, to $28.4 million, as B&N continues to shrink its mall store operations.

BAM overcame the impact of several hurricanes to post a 3.4% sales increase in the third quarter. Backlist sold well, and the children's segment had solid gains across all categories. Cochran said BAM is "already seeing serious sales" of books related to Narnia.

Bookstore Chain Sales 2004—2005 (in millions)

CHAIN 2004 2005 % CHANGE
Third Quarter
Barnes & Noble 1,042.3 1,081.8 3.7
Borders Group 833.3 837.2 0.5
Books-A-Million 104.1 107.6 3.4
Total 1,979.7 2,026.6 2.4
Nine Months
CHAIN 2004 2005 % CHANGE
Barnes & Noble 3,200.8 3,349.8 4.6
Borders Group 2,511.2 2,576.0 2.6
Books-A-Million 325.5 343.1 5.4
Total 6,037.5 6,268.9 3.8