Thursday, August 23, 2007

Barnes & Noble's Potter Quarter (Updated)

B&N CEO Steve Riggio commented that “Record breaking sales from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the principal driver behind our comparable store sales growth in the quarter,” which grew 4.4% versus the same period last year. Comparable on-line sales grew 18%. Total store revenues grew 7.3% for the period. Negating the impressive results was the revenue impact without Harry: Store sales only grew 1% and online 7.3%.

Financial markets have been noting any softness in any large retailer's results over the past several weeks and while Harry was an important factor in B&N's results, the 1% gain is an important indicator that B&N continues to make the right moves in a challenging marketplace. It will be interesting to see how Borders reports on Monday. Attention may be focused on the Harry effect and commentators may seek to eliminate these sales as an anomaly. The Harry phenom is an unnatural occurrence but in the process B&N were able to sell 1.7mm copies - they got the consumers into the store and while details are sketchy these consumers did in fact buy other titles. Riggio said the title continues to sell well.

The company also said they are confident that they will achieve their stated financial goals for the year.

For the quarter operating income of $13mm was half the amount in the same quarter 2006. The margin was 1% versus 2% last year. For the six months, operating income was $5mm versus $41mm last year. The company's gross margin was lower by a full percentage point and selling and marketing expenses for the six months were $40mm. Both line items contributed to the margin erosion.

B&N was trading up on the day.

Press Release

Some follow-up comments from the B&N conference call (Transcript from SeekingAlpha):

Riggio on the loyalty card and discounting:
We've got a strong balance sheet, good cash flow, and we thought it was the right time to take a piece of our profits and put it in the hands of the customers, and we're very pleased with the results since the launch last year. Customers love the card. They like the extra discount and we're seeing extra growth

Klipper on store growth:
Every year we say 30 to 40 stores, and it's really depending on the timing and when the development happens across America. We could clearly turn that up and open more stores if we so choose, but our criteria is extremely high. We're opening best location, not best available location, as we have in the last seven or eight years. The opening pace, we're very comfortable with it. I think there's a lot of business out there.

Riggio on Potter 'attachment'
The attachment rate is the same as it always was. It's a little more difficult to determine, frankly, because people spend two, three, four hours in the store and buy product and check out. Then at midnight, all they want is the one book. So our sense of it was that it drove sales in some categories more than others, I think especially in our cafe. But it's all behind us now. We think it was great for business, and we don't think it's over, because the book continues to sell well. All the other volumes are really doing well.

Riggio on the publishing year
I guess the thing that we try to point out most often is that while the business tends not to have lots of peaks other than Harry Potter, it also doesn't have many valleys and it's a relatively stable industry. On balance, we think this year was a bit better in the publishing season than last year, but so much is dependent on the second half of the year. September looks like a good release schedule, but we'll have to see what the customers say about all these books.

Toulantis on the on-line growth:
No. I think that while it's true if you exclude the actual sales from the Harry Potter book itself, the comparable online sales increase of 7.3% is obviously higher than recent trends, but the effect of the Harry Potter sale was to drive perhaps more interest, more traffic, and I think that drove to some more conversion. So we saw more traffic and more conversion in the quarter Again, I think a lot of it was around Harry Potter, so people coming to buy that book also when they come online, were buying some additional items.

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