Is Barnes & Noble the World's Largest Bookstore?

Trends Show Independent Booksellers Beat Chains, Internet Beats Brick-and-Mortar

What Is the World's Largest Retail Bookstore Where Is It Located Powell's Portland Oregon Getty Images
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As of June 2016, changes in the "World's Largest Bookstore" designation reveals the dramatic shifts in book retailing trends. The new World's Largest Bookstore proves that Independent retail book selling is beating the biggest retail bookstore chains, and the Internet is beating brick-and-mortar bookstores in some very important industry-disrupting ways.

Depending how you measure it, there are several different book stores that claim some aspect of the "World's Largest Book Store" title.

 Since “largest” can be measured by store size, retail sales floor square footage, number of titles, shelf space in a book store, and even more measurements, a frequently asked question from retail industry analysts, experts, investors, professionals, and enthusiasts is “Which book store is THE largest in the world and where is it located?

Barnes & Noble?

In terms of square footage, the Barnes and Noble  flagship bookstore located at 105 5th Avenue in New York laid claim to the "World's Largest Bookstore" title.  That is, until the store was closed in January 2014.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, before it was closed, this world’s largest Barnes & Noble store had 154,250 square feet and 12.87 miles of shelving. Features of this world’s largest Barnes & Noble book store included:

  • Barnes & Noble College Flagship store
  • Large selection of used academic, medical, and law textbooks
  • Greeting cards
  • Toys and games
  • Second floor in-store coffee shop serving Starbucks coffee
  • Free WiFi

At the same time the Barnes & Noble flagship was claiming the "World's Largest" title, another bookstore was advertising itself as the world’s largest book store.  Considering the non-book type of merchandise and offerings in the Fifth Avenue Barnes & Noble, this second claim was a plausible claim.

World's Biggest Bookstore?

When measured by the number of book titles in the store for sale, the World’s Biggest Bookstore located at 20 Edwards Street in Toronto was legitimately the "World's Largest Bookstore.  That is, until this store also closed in 2014, just shortly after the Barnes & Noble world's largest bookstore closed.  

According to the World’s Biggest Bookstore itself, the store had the largest number of titles under one brick-and-mortar retail roof.  It didn't advertise exactly how many titles it has, except to say that it is “over a million.”

With two of the World's Largest Bookstores recently out of business, the question about exactly where THE Wold's Largest Bookstore is now being asked more frequently.

Powell's Book Store?

Powell’s Book Store in Portland, Oregon doesn’t dispute the world’s largest claims of Barnes & Noble or the World’s Biggest Bookstore. But Powell’s stakes its claim to the “world’s largest” designation by stating that it is “the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world.”

This has been an unsupported claim, but it is also an undisputed claim, so apparently there are no other independent bookstores that think they are big enough to force the issue.

With 68,000 square feet, 1.6 acres of retail sales floor, the Powell's City of Books located at 1005 West Burnside Street in Portland reportedly has over 1 million books on its shelves, and reportedly purchases 3,000 used books per day.  

Although the Guinness Book of World Records no longer has an official listing for the World's Largest Bookstore, seemingly Powell's can validly lay claim to the title in every way that "largest" has been measured in the past for retail book stores.  

The largest store in the Barnes & Noble chain is now reportedly its Union Square store in New York, which is smaller than Powell's, measuring just 62,000 square feet.

Amazon.com?

There is one more legitimate "world's largest" title claim when it comes to books and retailing, however.  That title would be for the "World's Largest Books Retailer," which isn't really have a "bookstore" at all. It's estimated that Amazon has 3.4 million books on its virtual book shelves at any given moment, which is more than three times the number of titles claimed by Powell's.  It's also estimated that every five minutes a new book title is added to Amazon's cyber book shelves to be sold. 

And moving even farther away from traditional brick-and-mortar retailing, Amazon can stake a claim in one more aspect of "World's Largest Bookseller" as the world's largest retail seller of digital ebooks.  In 2015, an estimated 74% of all US ebooks purchased were purchased from Amazon.com.  And of all U.S. dollars spent on ebooks in 2015, 71% of those ebook dollars were spent on Amazon.com.  

Amazon's Kindle gets most of the credit for Amazon's dominance in retail ebook sales.  In 2015, 65% of all ebook sales of books published by traditional publishers were purchased through the Amazon Kindle store.

Currently the only competition for the World's Largest Ebook Retailer are Apple iBooks store, the Barnes & Noble Nook store, the Kobo Book store, and Google Play.

Despite its complete dominance of Internet e-commerce retail book sales and digital ebooks, Amazon's customer-centric founder Jeff Bezos is not content with its non-physical success in book retailing.  In 2015 the grand opening of the first Amazon physical bookstore took place in the company's headquarters location of Seattle, Washington.  That store is successful enough that reportedly Amazon plans to open 300 - 400 more physical bookstores.  

If these reports are true and Amazon does grow its chain to 400 bookstores, and over the same period of time the Barnes & Noble chain continues its trend of store closings, it is conceivable that Amazon will also soon be laying claim to the title of "World's Largest U.S. Retail Bookstore Chain."

By comparison, the largest U.S. retail bookstore chains have these total store counts as of 2016:

  • Barnes & Noble - 640 retail book stores in 50 states
  • Books-A-Million - 260 retail book stores in 32 states
  • Half Price Books - 120 stores in 18 states