A World Without Barnes & Noble?

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In June the Associated Press reported that Barnes & Noble’s future may be bleak. Its stock dropped 17.1% from the previous quarter. It reported a loss of $118.6 million with a 7% drop in overall revenue. William Lynch resigned as CEO and the company announced the end of Nook production.  Will Barnes & Noble, the last remaining large scale book store, survive the current retail climate?

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's Grilled Cheese

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s Grilled Cheese

Far beneath the surface, in the tunnels underneath the Wild Hunt, we contemplated the fate of Barnes & Noble. There was more at stake here than just another superstore filing for chapter 13. Personally speaking, I bought my first witchcraft book from a Barnes & Noble on 5th Avenue in New York City. For many people, book stores are access keys to the world. Sometimes that key is even accompanied by a cappuccino and good conversation.

So, here we are discussing the possible end of Barnes & Noble, the last of the large scale book sellers. What would a future without the bookseller look like? Would our access to metaphysical and holistic literature become limited? Would the publishers of such texts disappear without large scale distribution?

In order to get a clearer glimpse at the situation, I took the question directly to industry professionals working within the metaphysical book market. I spoke with Bill Krause at Llewellyn, one of the oldest metaphysical, holistic and spiritual book publishers in the industry. Based in Minnesota, Llewellyn has been successfully operating since 1901. Then I contacted Candace Apple, the owner and operator of Phoenix & Dragon, the largest metaphysical book store in the Atlanta metro area.


I asked publisher Bill Krause the question at hand, “would the loss of Barnes & Noble affect Llewellyn and, if so, how?”  He responded:

Barnes and Noble is an important trading partner and we are happy for the relationship we have with the people there. They are certainly feeling the changes and challenges of the publishing business but despite the prognostications of the “doomsdayers” we don’t see them going away any time soon.  

He continued on to say that:

We already have experience with the demise of a major trading partner. Borders and particularly Walden [were] big customers for Llewellyn. There is no denying it was a blow but the reality is the market for the kinds of information we provide does not die with the bookstore chain. It moves to where people are most comfortable shopping. It can be on-line at Amazon or Llewellyn.com or a host of other websites.

If Barnes & Noble did falter, Llewellyn would certainly feel a lull or a dip in its revenue stream but over the long haul, it would be able to compensate, as it did with the loss of Borders.  Krause explained that Llewellyn is more adaptable than any of the big six publishing houses. Why? Llewellyn serves a niche market with a focused output. As such it can readily, “move to where people are more comfortable shopping.”


Photo Courtesy of Elysia Gallo, Llewellyn

Krause also explained that Llewellyn’s ability to thrive for over 100 years has been rooted in its “history with the small stores.” He notes:

Llewellyn is fortunate to have long-standing relationships with the many fine metaphysical and independent stores across the country. Many of these relationships predate the advent of the superstore. We have seen this business grow by double-digits since Borders was shuttered. 

The publisher prides itself on these relationships. Not only does it keep in close contact with the stores, it also offers mutually-beneficial marketing programs such as Llewellyn Week. This particular program, for example, brings renowned Llewellyn authors to the stores for various events. This serves the author and publisher while also driving traffic into the store. It’s a win-win-win situation. The most recent Llewellyn Week was held at Namaste in New York City and the next will be held at Mystic Journey Bookstore in Venice, CA.

After speaking to Krause, I turned to Candace Apple, one of these local shop owners.  Phoenix & Dragon has been in business since 1987, supported by Apple’s hard work, time, heart and money. I asked her the same question:  How would the loss of Barnes & Noble affect your business?

Candace Apple

Candace Apple

Her answer was unexpected. Apple explained that brick-and-mortar superstores, like Barnes & Noble, are not competitors. Where those type stores are generalists, she is a specialist. When a reader can’t find a specific metaphysical book in a Barnes & Noble, the store clerks send them to Phoenix & Dragon. The superstore’s local presence benefits her and other independent, specialized book merchants.

Like Krause, Apple lamented the loss of Borders in 2011. The superstore played home to many Pagan meet-up groups who would then shop Phoenix & Dragon for their needed reading material. Now those groups don’t exist and Barnes & Noble hasn’t picked up the slack.  Despite the loss, Phoenix & Dragon only suffered a small dip in revenue.

Apple emphasized the need for versatility in the changing market. She saw the “writing on the wall” years ago.  She said:

Some 20 years ago at the American Booksellers’ Convention…I attended one of the early discussion panels on online sales. As the floor opened for questions, a publisher got up and stated, “With the internet, we won’t need bookstores anymore because we will be able to sell our books directly to the consumer.”  Then an author raised his hand, “Well, with the internet, we will be able to sell our books directly and we won’t need you publishers or bookstores anymore.” I [as a store owner] raised my hand and said, “My customers come into my store to experience that serenity and energy they receive there.  They want to take that energy home with them.  Perhaps I will be selling them rose quartz hearts to take home to hold that energy and will not need either of you.”

She added:

As it came to pass around 2009, many [independent] bookstores around the country experienced a 50% decrease in book sales. Online discounted sales were going strong. By that time Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore had expanded into numerous categories of transformational tools and when my book sales dropped by 50%, I only lost 15% of my overall sales.

That 15% loss was to Amazon, Apple’s biggest competitor, even to this day. Consumers visit her bookstore, use her bathrooms, enjoy her air-conditioning and then leave to purchase a book online for a discounted price. As Apple said, when they do that “they [are making] a choice of what they want their community to become.”

Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore

Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore

Krause also lamented this popular consumer behavior. Llewellyn values its small retailers which it sees as its backbone. He noted that many of the metaphysical shops like Isis in Denver have actually turned to online sales as a result.

Apple and Krause both recognize the continued instability in the publishing industry. But they are lucky. Their companies are flexible due to the almost grass-roots nature of their business models.  Both will continue to thrive with or without Barnes & Noble.

However, there are other complications and difficulties that plague the publishing world. One of these is the increasing popularity of self-publishing. For Llewellyn, it’s a brand new type of competition and for the independent retailer it presents a marketing challenge. Tomorrow, I will return to this discussion to look closer at self-publishing with comments from Bill Krause, Candace Apple and several published Pagan authors.