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Traditional bookstores struggling as more retailers get into the book business

LAWRENCEVILLE - Stephen King lovers and Danielle Steele junkies once knew bookstores were the best place to find a new novel by their favorite writer. Now, consumers can just as easily pick up a best-seller at Target, Publix or the local coffee shop.

Traditional bookstores have been losing market share to other retailers for years, but recently the trend helped send independent chain Chapter 11 Bookstore into bankruptcy. The Atlanta-based company last week announced it was closing six metro Atlanta locations, including two in

Gwinnett.

Not only small bookstore chains like Chapter 11 are struggling. Industry giant Borders recently cut its sales forecast for the holidays. The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company, which has numerous stores in metro Atlanta, has seen its stock drop from about $26 in July to around $18.75 on Friday.

Citing lackluster sales, Borders closed its store near Gwinnett Place Mall more than a year ago.

The bookselling industry faces two problems, analysts say. First, "market share is definitely shifting, and has been for some time," said Barrie Rappaport, senior analyst with the marketing research firm Ipsos. That means everyone from Wal-Mart, Internet-based merchants like Amazon.com and grocery stores are taking a bigger piece of the pie.

Another significant problem - it's a small pie.

In its latest annual report, Barnes & Noble, the industry's largest bookseller, quoted an industry forecast showing consumer spending on books is expected to increase from $19.5 billion in 2003 to $21.5 billion in 2008 - a paltry 1.9 percent.

Americans simply have other ways to entertain themselves besides reading books, industry analysts say. Consumer spending on electronics such as iPods, cell phones and video games is soaring.

Retail experts say bookstores must get creative.

"They all just look and feel the same," said Jeff Green, an industry consultant and founder of Jeff Green

Partners.

Bookstores, with big chairs and soft music, are cozy, "but Borders and Barnes & Noble have been comfortable places to read books for years, and it's not enough," Green said. "Nothing is more comfortable than reading a book at home."