What is the Future of Super-sized Bookstores?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

bookstore-shelvesBy Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

As you read this I’ll likely be on an Emirates flight returning from the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. I am happy to report back that Borders bookstores are alive and well in the Middle East. Dubai-based Al Maya group franchised the brand from the now defunct bookseller back in 2006 and still maintains outlets throughout the region, including in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.

It was, I must admit, a bit of a shock to see the old red and white branding as I traveled to and fro through Abu Dhabi this past week.

Borders bookstores are alive and well in the Middle East.

As we all remember, Borders went bust back in 2011, liquidating more than 600 bookstores. The company went from billions in revenue to bankrupt in less than a decade, done in by bad business decisions, the economy, high priced real estate leases and a general economic downturn.

They, along with Barnes & Noble, were at the forefront of the supersized-bookstore boom of the 1990s. Throughout that decade and into the 2000s, not a week went by without one or the other of the chains opening a new 20,000-square-foot location.

These days, the trend is to go smaller. Barnes & Noble has publicly stated it is likely to close underperforming stores at a regular rate, reducing the number from 680 or so to 400 to 500 over the next decade. The new stores that do open are likely to be smaller in size as well.

These days in the United States independent stores are having what the Wall Street Journal called a “second act,” and surged to 1,900 total stores in 2012, up from 1,651 in 2009. These new stores are often specialized and smaller in size. Gone are the days of ambitious news mega-stores, like Plano, Texas now defunct 24,000-square-foot Legacy Books, which was opened by former Borders and B&N sales executive in 2008. The store was re-branded in 2010 to A Real Bookstore and moved to a smaller, 20,000-square-foot location. That store suddenly closed this past Thursday.

Meanwhile, as discussed in today’s feature article, “Taiwanese Bookstore Chain Eslite Expands Aggressively into China,” the opening for large-scale bookstores in the growing Asian ecomies appears to be gaining momentum. In Taiwan, Eslite is even able to keep open at least one of its locations 24 hours a day.

So tell us, what is the future of the super-sized bookstore? Are they being reduced to being mere showrooms for ebook buyers — as suggested by Barnes & Noble’s ongoing dispute with Simon & Schuster over terms and payments for display space? Or do they still have a viable role to play in our communities, albeit on a smaller overall scale?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.