Books in the US still sell. Women in the US read an average of 14 books per year, according to Pew Research Center’s Internet Project. Men read an average of 10.
Yet the forces behind where those people read and how they get that reading material battle for control of those readers. The two major players in the US, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, are engaged in a war for consumer favor and customer service (and that’s before going down the more ebook-oriented road where Apple and publishing houses have also set themselves up as major competitors). Whoever can best simplify the path to purchase and surface the most relevant recommendations for readers wins—whether in-store or online.
Internet retail giant Amazon sells $5.25 billion in books each year, according to the New Yorker, which means that books account for 7% of the company’s annual revenue. Those numbers also indicate that, in 2014, Amazon is the largest bookseller in the world and, according to The Atlantic, controls around 50% of physical and electronic book sales in the United States.
Amazon’s just expanded to same-day delivery in six US cities, including Baltimore, Dallas, Indianapolis, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. According to Drug Store News and Greg Greeley, VP Amazon Prime, Amazon.com will be offering the largest selection of same-day delivery items at the lowest price: “Imagine how much time you will save now that you can get sunscreen, memory cards, toothpaste, hit movies, text books, and HDMI cables all delivered to your home in hours, seven days a week, in one order from Amazon.” Shoppers can place orders until 12pm for same-day delivery and Amazon Prime members only pay a $5.99 fee. (Nonmembers pay $9.98.)
Consumers are reading as much as they ever have, though how they consume and their expectations for the ease of consumption have changed. In 2011, 79% of US consumers reported reading a book in the past year. Of those, 71% read in print and 17% read on an ereader such as a Kindle or a Nook. By 2014, the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project calculated that 76% of US consumers had read a book in the past year with 69% reading in print and 28%—over 10 percentage points higher than in 2011—reading ebooks.
The ease with which Amazon can put physical and electronic books into the hands of its customers frightens competitors. And it should. Barnes & Noble’s business has been shrinking, with flatlining in-store and Nook sales. Its college bookstore business is booming but that might not be enough to save the bookstore chain that once put thousands of the country’s independent shops out of businesses, also surviving Borders.
But Barnes & Noble is gearing up for combat and entering the same-day delivery field vs. Amazon. In early August 2014, Barnes & Noble Inc. announced that it would team up with Google to pilot same-day deliveries in Manhattan, West Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, hoping that a digital-first approach will revive the company. Google’s recent pushes into Apple and Spotify’s territory with Google Play and Amazon’s with its build-out of Google Shopping likely made the partnership with Barnes & Noble a no-brainer. “This pilot is obviously designed as a way for both Barnes & Noble and Google to challenge Amazon’s dominance of the online book market,” wrote Chain Store Age. The question is whether those efforts matter.
The saying holds that if you build it, they will come. But if you build it and they don’t know it’s there because they never dreamed of going to bn.com, bypass your search engine, and go directly to Amazon.com because that’s how they always browse, will the program make it past the pilot phase?