Happy holidays for indie bookstores – but not for Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble reported disappointing holiday sales numbers while, in contrast, some independent bookstores said they had their best month ever.

Julio Cortez/AP
Worker Miguel Mercado unpacks Nook tablets at a company distribution center.

The holiday season was not a happy one for Barnes & Noble, judging by latest sales figures released by the company. 

Sales of their Nook products, which Barnes & Noble has been pushing over the past several months, dropped 12.6 percent to $311 million over the shopping season and total sales of retail operations also experienced a steep decline, dropping 10.9 percent to $1.2 billion. The company did not release sales figures detailing the number of Nook e-readers sold. Digital products, such as e-books, did increase by 13.1 percent, but the store reported that products that weren’t Nooks experienced a sales drop of 3.1 percent because of a lack of traffic in stores.

Nook device sales got off to a good start over the Black Friday period, but then fell short of expectations for the balance of the holiday,” Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch said in a statement. “We are examining the root cause of the December shortfall in sales, and will adjust our strategies accordingly going forward.”

The book giant is still locked in a struggle with online behemoth Amazon, and the Nook device was supposed to be the ace up the company's sleeve that could enable them to keep abreast in the marketplace, which means that low sales over the holiday season must have been particularly disconcerting.

“They are not selling the devices, they are not selling books and traffic is down,” Mike Shatzkin, founder and chief executive of publishing consultant company Idea Logical, told The New York Times. “I’m looking for an optimistic sign and not seeing one. It is concerning.”

By contrast, many independent bookstores seemed to have enjoyed very successful holiday seasons. The Brooklyn, N.Y. bookstore WORD reported to bookseller industry newsletter Shelf Awareness that they had their best month ever during December with a 40 percent increase in sales, while the bookstore Duck’s Cottage in Duck, North Carolina, had a similarly happy story to tell.

“Dozens of stores have reported that they had their best year ever in 2012,” American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher told Shelf Awareness. Teicher said that, based on numbers from the 500 or so bookstores that report to the IndieBound Bestseller lists, in November independent bookstores were 10 percent ahead of their 2011 sales numbers.

“[People are] starting to realize that maybe they shouldn't buy everything from Amazon and want to shop local,” Duck’s Cottage co-owner Jamie Layton told Shelf Awareness.

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