When and why Barnes & Noble will close one-third of its stores

Published: Thursday, Feb. 7 2013 11:15 a.m. MST

Some of the most iconic Barnes & Noble locations have recently disappeared, and plans are already in place to close about 20 stores every year over the next decade.

Associated Press

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The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Barnes & Noble will significantly downsize its retail operation over the next 10 years, with plans to shutter approximately one-third of its 689 brick-and-mortar locations until “only” 450-500 stores remain.

After interviewing Barnes & Noble retail chief Mitchell Klipper, the Journal’s Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg reported, “The chain shut an average of about 15 stores a year in the past decade, but until 2009 it also was opening 30 or more a year. Its store openings have largely dried up as consumers' shift toward digital books has upended the market and developers have stopped opening new malls. … Mr. Klipper's comments come amid growing questions about Barnes & Noble's future. This month the company reported an unexpectedly weak holiday selling season, with store revenue declining nearly 11 percent from a year earlier.”

The Atlantic’s website published a piece Tuesday outlining some of the significant obstacles clouding Barnes & Noble’s future: “The overall impression of Barnes & Noble's situation in the book industry is not nearly as positive as its owners and investors would like to portray. Publisher's Weekly reported last week that Barnes & Noble is in the midst of contentious negotiations over terms with Simon & Schuster. … There was an initial belief that Borders' bankruptcy would bring a substantial portion of its in-store business to Barnes & Noble, but that has not turned out to be the case.”

Last Monday, Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri penned an open letter to Barnes & Noble in which she captured the essence of why physically going to a bookstore can be such an emotionally rewarding experience.

“You say you are closing a third of your physical bookstores over the next decade, all while admitting they are not unprofitable? Please listen to yourself,” Petri implored. “… You are the last hope of the brick-and-mortar bookstore, and at first we were optimistic. We love these places, with the pictures of Great Authors fraternizing on the walls. We attend readings there. We drink coffee there. We go to brick-and-mortar bookstores to do just about everything other than buy an e-reader. This is why your approach, lately, is so worrisome.”

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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