I'll confess. I'm one of those folks who treat booksellers like Barnes & Noble
But I'm not in the majority here, it seems. (If were, I shouldn't be able to find a seat, right?). Sales at Borders rose a bit more than 6% this quarter, though that was helped by an extra week. Subtract out that week, and growth is more on the order of 2%. But relative to domestic comps of 2.5% in the big stores, that's not too bad -- especially given that books comped up 6% and music, down 11%, is still an albatross around the company's neck.
The main gig with Borders is its ongoing efforts to refurbish and improve many of its stores. The company continues to convert its cafe areas to Seattle's Best cafes and to add gift and stationery shops to many stores. Management is also going another step further by launching a loyalty program that costs nothing to join but still offers some advantages for the customer.
The real question, though, is how much these changes will drive foot traffic and, ultimately, cash flow. There isn't a whole lot of growth in the bookselling business -- at least until the next Harry Potter and the Magic Cash Register installment comes out -- and this is likely to become a story that revolves around operating efficiency and cost control.
So here we have basically three options -- Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon. I think we all know which one is the growth pick. And those who've read my prior Takes on Barnes & Noble know that I like it as a free-cash-flow play. Borders, though, is somewhere in the middle -- still possessing some relative growth potential (assuming these remodeling efforts pay off), but also a cash flow story to some extent. That hybrid nature makes it a little riskier, but it could also make it a little more interesting for some investors.
For more fancy book learnin', Fool-style:
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).