November 2, 2017

Book World closes and a giant bookselling vacuum opens in the midwest


For more than forty years, Book World has been a major bookselling presence in the Midwest. With forty-five locations—including one that opened just this year—they are the fourth-largest book chain in the US. But sadly, all of them are about to go bye-bye. All of them.

As Claire Kirch reports for Publishers Weekly, the entire company has decided to shut down. Today, a liquidation sale will begin at all locations, and will continue until all of the stock—books, gifts, cards, all of it—is sold through. Despite a resurgence in brick-and-mortal culture, Book World seems to have been unable to fit their model with the changing retail landscape.

In the letter to Book World’s business partners, senior v-p Mark Dupont said that while the chain had been able to weather the advent of e-books, in the past 12 months sales started plummeting and still continue to drop. Dupont attributed the downturn to the national consumer shift towards e-commerce and away from large department stores. This, Dupont wrote, “has triggered the loss of vital mall anchor stores and a downward spiral in customer counts, reducing sales to a level that will no longer sustain our business.”

For those following the recent uptick in indie bookstores, the trend seems to favor highly personalized, unique store experiences. Those are the outlets that are thriving. While Book World had a small, quaint charm, the brand catered much largely to mall shoppers, as Dupont explains. CNN reported earlier this year on a Credit Suisse report that predicted as many as a quarter of US malls could close within the next five years because of slowing customer traffic, making the decision to liquidate now a sign of perhaps similar stories to come.

While it appears the decision to close all of the businesses came suddenly, it’s still unclear what will happen to all of the locations, many of which Dupont claims are still profitable. Kirch writes:

Du Pont… said that some of the stores—especially those in downtown areas—are doing well, and expressed his hope that people interested in bookselling in communities about to lose their Book World outlet would open up their own bookstore, perhaps even in the same building. “Many of the stores are truly still healthy,” he wrote.

Let’s hope that happens. Communities need bookstores.



Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.