Tag Archives: Bookstores

The final chapter for a big retail landmark

In an era where a growing number of consumers get their news online and read books on handheld devices, it should be no surprise that books and other paper products are not generating strong sales.

Still, it somehow seems unexpected when a bookstore as notorious as the World’s Biggest Bookstore – a Toronto landmark that’s been around for more than three decades – closes its doors.

BiggestBookstore

Photo courtesy of World’s Biggest Bookstore Facebook Page.

By now, most Torontonians are likely accustomed to seeing ‘Going out of Business Sale’ signs in the windows of neighbourhood bookstores. Back in January, for instance, we learned that Book City’s flagship store in the Annex was shutting down after almost 40 years.

It’s pretty clear what’s driving this trend. As bookstores compete with online retailers like Amazon.com, along with a growing array of tablets and e-readers that enable us to consume books in a compact, portable, paperless fashion, people are simply not going to stores to buy books nearly as often as they did in the past.

Meanwhile, many of the bookstores that are still around are rapidly diversifying their product shelves to give shoppers other reasons to come into their stores, as books do not have the draw they once did.

Shoppers who have visited a Indigo store in the past year or two, for example, could be forgiven for mistaking it for a home décor retailer, given the growing selection of candles, throws and vases in those stores. That strategy appears to be paying off: the company has seen double-digit growth in sales of lifestyle products, toys and other non-book items in recent quarters.

In the case of the World’s Biggest Bookstore, it had certainly seen better days. Last time I stopped by, the store looked dated and run down – especially compared to Indigo’s other stores. In that sense, its looming closure is not too surprising.

world-biggest-bookstore

Still, the closure of this store seems somehow symbolic, reflecting the end of an era in the world of books. The store was more than a bookshop – it was a landmark. Given our rapidly changing world, however, maybe this landmark was simply no longer a relevant one.

The future of the book retailing business does not look particularly promising. But, for now, Toronto shoppers still have various destinations to buy books – even once the city’s biggest book hub has officially closed shop.

The doors will close for the last time tomorrow, on March 30th. So get your final fix before it’s too late.

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Filed under Retail & the Web, Store Closures

Authors and autographs for book-lovers

Consumers may be starting to shun books in favour of tablets and e-readers, but bookstore chain Indigo Books & Music Co. continues to give shoppers reasons to visit its stores.

Indigo regularly holds events at its stores featuring the authors of new and popular books. The writers come in to meet fans, sign books, and in some cases, to speak to the crowd and answer questions about their latest work.

These events have been happening for a few years now, but I continue to be impressed by the high profile names that the company has attracted to participate – Bill Clinton, William Shatner, Jann Arden and Randy Bachman, to name a few.

Margaret Atwood speaks with Matt Galloway about her book Payback at the Indigo store at the Manulife Centre.

Most recently, Indigo hosted renowned Canadian author Margaret Atwood at its Manulife Centre store to discuss her latest book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, and the new documentary based on the book.

Atwood spoke with Matt Galloway, host of the CBC radio show Metro Morning, about the key themes of the book and the process of translating these themes from paper to film.

Since Atwood is one of my favourite Canadian writers, I jumped at the opportunity to see her speak and to have her sign my copy of Payback. Hearing authors discuss their work, I find, helps me to appreciate their talent even more. And this event was no exception. Atwood provided some interesting insight into the book and the inspiration behind it.

The only problem with events like this one is that they tend to be a little too popular – especially since they’re free. Atwood attracted such a large audience last week that there weren’t nearly enough seats for the sizeable crowd, and there’s limited standing room in the busy store.

Since my friend and I didn’t arrive early enough to beat the crowds, we were stuck standing for the duration of the event in a small, crowded space at the back of the room with dozens of other onlookers.

So, if you plan to attend any of Indigo’s other events – and there are plenty – my advice is to arrive early.

Here are a few upcoming events at Indigo stores in Toronto:

> Nicholas Sparks will be making an appearance at the Yorkdale location on April 5th at 7 pm, to sign copies of his latest novel The Lucky One

> The founders of the MTV reality series The Buried Life, Dave, Duncan, Jonnie and Ben, will appear at the John and Richmond Chapters store on April 10th at 7 pm to talk about their new book What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?

> Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN, will chat with Indigo boss Heather Reisman at the Manulife Centre location on April 11th at 7 pm about his first novel, Monday Mornings

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Still a bookstore, but with fewer books

Indigo Books & Music Inc. continues to shake up its in-store offerings, and while books remain prominent, they no longer seem to be front and centre in the retailer’s stores.

In the past couple years, Indigo has been beefing up its selection of stationary products, gifts and lifestyle products, games, music, DVDs and even food products. At some Chapters and Indigo stores, like the Toronto Eaton Centre location, there seems to be a lot more emphasis on this other merchandise than books.

Most recently, the company has begun experimenting with new personalized gift items in stores. It has launched a new concept called IndigoStudio in two GTA locations, Erin Mills and Queensway, where customers can have items customized with their own photos, artwork and images.

Photo Glass from IndigoStudio

For example, as an alternative to framing a picture, IndigoStudio allows you to have high resolution photos printed directly onto glass. Other customizable items include greeting cards, calendars, mugs and others.

I imagine the new selection of merchandise is Indigo’s way of reducing its reliance on traditional book sales, which are declining with the rise of electronic books.

So far, this strategy seems to be working. In the latest quarter, Indigo said revenues jumped by 13.9% over the same period last year, partly thanks to growth in the sales of gift, toy and paper products.

It’s nice to see that the retailer is still investing in its stores, and finding new ways to keep customers coming back. But if it shifts its merchandise too far beyond the realm of books and music, I have a feeling its consumers may get confused about the chain’s specialty.

The customizable photo products, for instance, could make thoughtful gifts, but are a bit of an unusual offering for a bookstore. I’d be more likely to shop for this type of item at a photography store like Black’s.

It will be interesting to see whether the IndigoStudio pilot project takes off.

Meanwhile, on the core book side of the business, Indigo seems to be doing a pretty good job of adapting to the shift to digital reading. Last quarter, the retailer reported strong growth in its digital division. Sales in its online segment were up 6.5% over last year, largely thanks to sales of eReaders and eReader accessories.

This transition to digital books, however, has its costs. Indigo’s net profit fell to $30.2 million in the third fiscal quarter, from $34.5 million last year, due to its various digital investments.

I have a feeling that the shift to digital consumption will continue to present challenges to bookstores over the next few years. But this retailer, for one, seems to be adapting pretty well.

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Filed under Department Stores & Big Boxes, Retail & the Web