Powell’s Books’ Lay-Off of 31 Workers Latest Sign of Bookstore Woe

Powell's Books

It is definitely tough times for brick and mortar bookstores–even ones that are popular online. Publisher’s Weekly reports that Powell’s Books, a forty-year-old Portland, Oregon independent new and used bookstore, has laid off thirty-one union employees, over 7% of its workforce.

The announcement was made by new company president Emily Powell in conjunction with her father Michael Powell, who founded the bookstore. According to Powell, the decision was based on an industry-wide decline in the purchase of new books as well as the quickly changing nature of the book industry and methods people are using to get their reading material. Rising health care costs and the damaged economy were also cited as reasons behind the workforce reduction.

While other cost-cutting measures will be taken (a July 1 pay freeze, suspension of 401k contributions beginning February 21), the real issue will become how to reverse the declining sales, a situation in which Powell’s is not alone. Borders has had net losses every quarter for the past three years and is on the verge of bankruptcy while Barnes & Noble has also been struggling.

Powell’s was one of the biggest success stories for independent bookstores. A popular tourist attraction, it has boasted a large online presence for years, but with the rise of ebooks and so many online outlets for cheap new and used books, this downturn was probably inevitable.

Do you think the days of brick and mortar bookstores are almost over or is there still a place for them in the changing marketplace?

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