Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Borders: Out With the CDs and DVDs, In With "Twilight" Books and Other Stuff for Teens

Tooling around my local Borders Books and Music the other day, with my young daughter in tow, I was shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- by how extensively the selection of DVDs and CDs has been cut back.

At that store, just north of Kennedy on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, those sections have been chopped back by two-thirds or more.

My daughter was upset that, in the few remaining rows of CDs, the headphone-listening stations have been removed. As far back as I can remember, both of my kids, now 13 and almost 10, have enjoyed sampling new and old music via those stations at Borders. Now, they're gone.

I was shocked, but not really surprised by the store's nuking of movies and music.

Why? Because all the industry stats point to huge declines in the sales of DVDs and CDs, at Borders, Best Buy and practically everywhere else.

Consumers increasingly are getting their music via downloads, and movie lovers have more and more options to find what they want online and through offerings on pay cable (in addition to options like renting through NetFlix and Red Box).

Maybe I'm part of the problem, when it comes to sales of music and DVDs at bookstores: I've always viewed those items, at those places, as always overpriced, practically as high as similar items in malls.

So whenever I want to buy new CDs, I try to buy at independent stores, like Vinyl Fever. And the majority of my DVD buying has been done online.

Now here comes news regarding Borders' strategy for filling up the space vacated by all those DVDs and CDs: "Borders Ink" sections, devoted to teen-oriented items - graphic novels, fantasy, and young-adult titles - will be open in up to 90 percent of the chain's 513 superstores by the end of August.

The new departments will also include promotional items - pencil cases, bookmarks, etc. - that are tie-ins with the "Twilight" vampire books and other popular series.

That's according to a piece in today's Wall Street Journal.

Why is this happening now? Big cash potential, of course.

"At a time when book retailing is slumping, young-adult titles and graphic novels are still delivering growth," according to the story. "Albert N. Greco, a professor at the Fordham University's Graduate School of Business Administration who studies the book industry, estimates that young-adult fiction, fantasy and science fiction will generate $744.3 million in U.S. publisher revenue this year, up 13% from $659.1 million in 2008. That compares with U.S. publisher revenue of an estimated $9.73 billion for consumer books as a whole, a 4.7% decline from 2008's sales, according to Mr. Greco."

So, the good news: Teens, apparently, haven't given up their reading habit, despite the hype to the contrary.

The bad news, aside from stores getting rid of stuff I really like - CDs and DVDs - is the advent of e-books.

What effect, ultimately, will that have on "real" books - you know, the ink-on-print kind?

And what impact will the price of e-books - $10 or so - have on the price of print books, and, ultimately, on how much publishers make, and the earnings potential for authors?

Those concerns are fodder for another type of column, another day.

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