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Now boarding: How airport bookstores are reacting to a changing industry

Published: Saturday, Dec. 28 2013 4:00 a.m. MST

Airport bookstores are currently facing heavy competition from national chains and e-reader builders, forcing them them to restructure their business models and compete.

Chuck Wing, Deseret News

Judith Briles enjoys reading when she’s on a plane. Sometimes her books are recently purchased from an airport bookstore.

“I do it for a pleasure,” said Briles, an author and publishing consultant. She notices many others are reading books on planes. Some sift through their paperbacks, while others scroll their eBook readers and tablets with a flick of a finger, she said.

In fact, many travelers are reading books using eBook readers and tablets. The Pew Research Center published a report last year that said 23 percent of Americans from 16 years old and up are using eBook readers, compared to 16 percent in 2011. And that may increase with the Federal Aviation Administration lifting its ban on allowing passengers to read eBooks during the takeoffs and landings of flights. (The Federal Communications Commission is also considering whether to allow phone calls on flights.)

Airport bookstores may be on the front lines of the transition to eBooks. Cheaper prices and new methods of reading are causing concerns among booksellers, experts say.

But the future isn’t all bleak, said Sara Hinckley, spokesperson for the Hudson Group, which owns several airport bookstores throughout the country.

“Bookstores across the country, including Hudson, are doing everything they can to give customers a reason to look beyond price as the only deciding purchase factor: a hand-picked selection, personal service, a pleasant shopping environment, convenience, community support and the most aggressive pricing we can afford,” she said.

Dwindling appreciation

John Kremer, founder and creator of BookMarket.com, which analyzes different book markets across the country, said Amazon and online retailers are hurting airport bookstores because book prices are usually cheaper online and are more convenient to pick up. Even though there are still readers on airplanes, many are grabbing their books from places other than airports, Kremer said.

Airport bookstores account for 10 percent of all physical bookstores in the country, or about 2 percent of the entire industry book sales, including online sales, he said.

Hinckley said the Hudson Group has seen an increase in sales recently – up mostly because of popular books like "50 Shades of Grey" and The Hunger Games series.

Briles said when she was at the Philadelphia Independent Airport recently, she saw plenty of shoppers flipping through the clearance sections at airport bookstores. She said many of the people on her flight carried physical books. Some carried both a physical book and an eBook reader, Briles said.

A 2012 study by digEcor, a digital entertainment solutions company, said reading is the number one activity for flyers on flights from one to eight hours. Briles said trendy books on very topical issues sell the best because most travelers want to stay up on current events.

And airport bookstores are unique because they market some books toward those coming into their country, Briles said. Many books will have state landmarks and monuments to attract readers who want a better understanding of the location, she said.

Hinckley said Hudson selects inventory for each individual place, listening to bookseller recommendations for the markets the stores will be moving into.

Current competition

More than just eBook readers and tablets, airport bookstores are facing pressures from larger companies like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, both of which sell their books online and offer their own eBook readers.

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