The closure of the second-largest bookstore chain will alter the landscape of the bookselling industry.
Borders' "Going out of business" signs summoned the masses throughout the weekend. Like Tower Records before it, Borders failed to embrace the digitalization of its industry. And also like Tower Records, Borders left its shareholders with nothing but tax writeoffs to show for their investments. Investors who choose to stay in this industry should accordingly survey its landscape following Borders' demise.
According to statistics from the Association of American Publishers, as booksellers shutter storefronts, e-book sales enjoy triple-digit percentage growth.
Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN), which popularized e-books with the introduction of the Kindle, is the most obvious beneficiary of this transition. It parlayed its first-mover advantage into a commanding lead of the e-book market, currently garnering 60% to 65% of all e-book sales. For the first time, in April, Amazon's e-book sales surpassed its sales of paperback and hardcover books combined. It now sells 105 e-books for every 100 print books.
While Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) will also benefit from this transition, estimates of its e-book market share are more elusive. In a presentation last year, Steve Jobs claimed that Apple's iBookstore controlled 22% of the domestic market, excluding small publishing houses. Whatever the number is, however, it seems safe to assume it will grow as Apple continues to sell products preloaded with the iBookstore app.
It is hard to dismiss the possibility that Borders' liquidation is the proverbial canary in the coal mine for Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS). In the more immediate future, however, Borders' liquidation sales will drive price-conscious consumers away from B&N, as they did when Borders closed 200 stores earlier this year. At the time, B&N's same-store sales decreased by 2.9%.
That Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) is a victim of Borders' travails confirms the relationship between coffee and books. Seattle's Best Coffee, a wholly owned Starbucks subsidiary, licenses and sells products to more than 400 Borders in-store cafes. Under its licensing agreements, while Starbucks receives a reduced share of the total store revenues, this reduction is "more than offset" by the reduction in its share of costs, as these are primarily borne by the licensee. As a result, investors should expect to see a decrease in Starbucks' operating margin as a result of Borders' liquidation.
The end of a chapter
The era of chain bricks-and-mortar bookstores is coming to a close. The final chapter has yet to be written, but readers as well as investors should embrace these changes now, for the benefit of both themselves and their portfolios.
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