Today's story about Harvard Book Store recited some of the woes of independent bookselling, but the big boys aren't exactly celebrating. Barnes & Noble recently reported same-store sales (i.e., stores open at least a year) were off 1.5 percent in the first quarter, from the same period of 2007, while Books-A-Million's sales were down 3.4 percent.
Borders Group yesterday reported a 1 percent drop in sales in the first quarter. The company announcement noted that same-store sales at domestic superstores were off 4.1 percent, but that if music is excluded, the drop is 1.7 percent.
In other words, the book biz is bad, but the music biz is worse, at least in CDs.
All three of the big operators said the problem was a drop in customer traffic. How come? Some analysts say it's the cost of gasoline -- you can't take the subway to a typical suburban big-box store -- and consumer cutbacks in spending on cafe food. It would be interesting to know how urban big-boxes with heavy foot traffic, such at the B&N at Prudential or the Borders at Downtown Crossing, are faring compared with suburban locations. Could the cost of gas have a reviving effect on downtown retailers? Stay tuned.