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Book Showdown: Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Amazon

Posted by: Nanette Byrnes on October 16, 2009

It’s never good when an analyst compares your fate to “collateral damage” in a “Nuclear Winter”. That’s how Credit Suisse’s Gary Balter sees Barnes & Noble’s fate in the book war escalating between Wal-Mart and Amazon.

Despite being a fantastic operator of its retail stores and running a fairly successful Web site, Barnes & Noble seems to destined by Balter to be crushed by forces far larger than itself. Namely Wal-Mart and the World Wide Web.

Yesterday, Wal-Mart announced it would be selling 10 upcoming hotly anticipated books for just $10 each. Amazon matched the move post-haste. So Wal-Mart lowered its price to $9. According to Balter, the comparable prices at Barnes and Noble ranged from $13.20 to $21 for the same 10. The books include Sarah Palin’s autobiography and the next offerings of Dean Koontz, John Grisham and Barbara Kingsolver, among others.(The full list of 10 is here.)

Not long after, news came out that Google would be launching an online site capable of delivering e-books to any device with a Web browser, with an initial library of about half a million titles.

Barnes & Noble, Balter concludes, “is gradually losing control over its destiny due to technology changes.”

This is an old saw for the book retailer, which has long outlived the doomsayers that called it dead a decade ago, but competing against $9 books and the giants of e-commerce is only getting tougher.

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Reader Comments

Steve Bangalore

October 16, 2009 09:57 PM

B & N will survive. Walmart has avery limited selection of books, Amazon is good if you know exeactly what you want to buy, but llousy to just browse for something. But B & N seems controlled in their selection by a bunch of liberal New York centric managers. B & N seems to have forgotten middle America.Twice a year I go to USA and buy 40 - 50 books: The fiction section seems never to change, history has the same old stuff, politics and current events section goes with the left politics. I then go to Borders and find some goodies.Get wise B & N the world does not end at the Hudson River.

Darth Rex

October 18, 2009 01:49 AM

We also know what a bunch of presumably politically conservative bankers/crooks on Wall Street in the same NY-centric financial system has done to the rest of the economy. Do you really think any of these banksters give a flying hoot about so-called middle America? Those who can only see things along partisan lines will by default miss seeing the bigger picture. In the end, the money people don't really care if you're Repub, Dem, or whatever. They only care about keeping control of the money supply & policy... Sorry, this rant has nothing to do with the fate of B & N, but to think that perceived political bias in business decisions will make or break a company is questionable at best.


October 18, 2009 07:43 AM

I read an article earlier today on how well Amazon is doing with its 5 million odd reviews on its products. If users continue to increase the sheer mass of consumer reviews it will be easier than ever to find a commendable read & with that I fear the bricks n' mortar bookstores will be pretty much toast.

Its a shame really. Reading a *book* is so much more enjoyable than glaring at a screen. And even with something like Amazon's "Kindle" there's a certain something lost as soon as books become "digital".

On the other hand though, how convenient would it be to have your personal hand selected library at your fingertips?

In the end, I feel like the fate of physical *books* is tied to this as well. Lets see what happens I guess.


October 18, 2009 10:44 AM

Our ancestors drew on cave walls and etched on stone tablets. We have progressed to hard paper copy. Soon, it will be..."Insert chip behind ear lobe and think start reading to begin."

Vanchinathan AC

October 18, 2009 01:32 PM

Time to re-invent the wheel. B&N can compete with wal-mart and amazon provided they have the right strategy.

Thomas Huynh

October 19, 2009 10:52 PM

B&N has a solid niche strategy. There is no better place to browse for books than at a physical bookstore like B&N. It's bright, clean, and smells of coffee. Amazon is unfortunately inadequate for browsing no matter how great their web technology. Also the last thing I want to do at the end of the day is go to my computer again. I never bought a book from Walmart because their selection is nearly non-existent. B&N offers the setting perfect for getting the book you want (or didn't know I wanted) right away, which I do all the time. By the way, I also buy at Amazon but only for books I already know about, and usually books I'm not particularly eager to read right away. Frankly if Amazon doesn't give me a discount, they'd lose my business.

Thomas Huynh, founder

L n T

October 20, 2009 01:02 PM

B & N and Borders are both on shaky ground. Both companies are overpriced on their merchandise! In America, it's all about, "how much does it cost". Wal-Mart will crush these two stores like all the others!


March 27, 2010 04:31 PM

Time to re-invent the wheel. B&N can compete with wal-mart and amazon provided they have the right strategy.

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How can you manage smarter? BusinessWeek writers Nanette Byrnes, Patricia O’Connell, Emily Thornton, Matthew Boyle, Michelle Conlin and Diane Brady synthesize insights from the brightest business thinkers, critique the latest management trends, and comment on leaders in the news.

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