Don't get your hopes up for Barnes & Noble returning to West L.A.*

barnes-noble-westside.jpgWhen the Westside Pavilion location was closed in late 2011, CEO Mitchell Klipper gamely promised to look for another location. He pointed out that the store was being closed because of high rent, not weak sales. (Yeah, it seemed a little bogus to me too.) Well, more than a year later there's no sign that Barnes & Noble is actually looking for a new West L.A. space. Not only that, the chain shuttered its Woodland Hills store a few weeks ago. And in today's WSJ, Klipper says the company plans to close another 200 or so locations over the next decade. That would bring down the total to between 450 and 500 stores, a level that Klipper says would make for a workable business model (even though the company had a terrible holiday sales season). Barnes & Noble still has high-trafficked stores on Third Street in Santa Monica and at the Grove. A smaller store remains in Marina del Rey. Of course, let's not forget all the Borders stores that were shuttered when that bookseller went bankrupt. From the Journal:

After years of losing market share for print books to discounting by Inc., Barnes & Noble is grappling with the print market's shrinkage, thanks to the growing popularity of cheap e-books, also championed by Amazon. Unit sales of print books dropped 9% in the U.S. last year, according to market researcher Nielsen BookScan, and they are off 22% from 2007, when digital books started gaining traction. At the same time, Barnes & Noble's efforts to build support for its two new Nook tablets have stalled. Amid competition from Amazon, Apple Inc.,Google Inc. and electronics companies like Samsung Electronics Co., sales of Nook products in stores and online during the holiday season fell from a year earlier.

Plenty of retailers have been felled by digital competition in the past decade, including Tower Records, Circuit City Stores and Barnes & Noble's former rival, Borders Group Inc. Retail consultant Doug Stephens, whose book, "The Retail Revival," is being published in the U.S. in March, predicts that mainstream booksellers eventually will "become a thing of the past." Mr. Klipper said he thinks that's nonsense. Opening a thick printout of the financial performance of each Barnes & Noble store, he ran his finger over a few lines and said, "This is what's losing money, a handful. Then you go from making money to making a lot of money." He estimated that fewer than 20 of the retailer's stores lose money, or less than 3% of the group's total.

*Update: B&N is obviously not thrilled with the Journal piece. Its spokeswoman just sent me this statement:

"Barnes & Noble has not adjusted its store closing plan whatsoever. The Wall Street Journal article implies that our rate of store closures has changed. We have historically closed approximately 15 stores per year for the past 10 years. Of that number some of the stores are unprofitable while others are relocations to better properties. The numbers reported today by the Wall Street Journal are consistent with analysts' expectations. It should be noted that in 2012, Barnes & Noble opened two new prototype stores and in 2013 plans to test several other prototypes, as well. Barnes & Noble has great real estate in prime locations and the Company's management is fully committed to the retail concept for the long term."

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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