Dragged down by a horrible fourth quarter, in which sales fell 9.0%, total revenue for the country's three major chains fell 5.4% in 2008, to $8.9 billion. This is the first year that their combined annual sales have fallen since Barnes & Noble, Borders and Books-A-Million came to dominate the retail book market. In 2007, sales rose 2.7%, despite a weak holiday season.Borders seems still to be suffering the biggest decline in year-to-year comparisons: down 8.9% for the whole year and 13.8% in the fourth quarter comparison. Barnes and Noble, on the other hand, is down 3.1% for the year and 6.2% for the quarter. Books-A-Million is down 4.1% for the year but had the best fourth quarter results of the three chains, only falling 2.5% as compared to 2007's fourth quarter.
I suppose that the economy is having such an impact on discretionary spending that bookstores are certain to feel it. I know that I've purchased considerably fewer books in the last six months than in any six month period in several years - and that's a psychological thing. Since I feel poorer than I have in years and because it is impossible to ignore all of the negative economic news about at least the near-term future, I have, almost subconciously, cut back on spending for just about everything. I search hard for book bargains - and the library is my best friend.
I hope the chains survive this mess, but if they don't, I can easily believe that someone will be there to pick up the pieces when the economy takes off again - and that a new chain or two will be born.