NEW YORK—In the massive new Barnes & Noble superstore on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, generous display space is devoted to baby blankets, Art Deco flight clocks, stationery and adult games like Risk and Stratego.
The eclectic merchandise, which has nothing to do with books, may be a glimpse into the future of Barnes & Noble Inc., the nation’s largest book chain.
For 40 years, Barnes & Noble has dominated bookstore retailing. In the 1970s it revolutionized publishing by championing discount hardcover best sellers. In the 1990s, it helped pioneer book superstores with selections so vast that they put many independent bookstores out of business.
Today it boasts 1,362 stores, including 719 superstores with 18.8 million square feet of retail space—the equivalent of 13 Yankee Stadiums.
But the digital revolution sweeping the media world is rewriting the rules of the book industry, upending the established players which have dominated for decades. Electronic books are still in their infancy, comprising an estimated 3% to 5% of the market today. But they are fast accelerating the decline of physical books, forcing retailers, publishers, authors and agents to reinvent their business models or be painfully crippled.