Birmingham-based Books-A-Million has grown from a makeshift newsstand established in 1917 in Florence, Lauderdale County, into the third largest book retailer in the United States. There are at present 208 stores, comprised of 184 superstores and 24 traditional Bookland stores in the Southeast and the Mid-Atlantic region. Books-A-Million superstores offer a wide range of book titles, magazines, gifts, and other items; the smaller Bookland stores sell gifts and greeting cards, and Joe Muggs Newsstands offer customers reading space in a café environment. Additionally, the corporation has a book wholesale and distribution subsidiary, American Book Wholesale, an e-commerce division operating as booksamillion.com, and an Internet services company known as NetCentral.
In 1917, 14-year-old Clyde W. Anderson of Florence dropped out of school and began delivering newspapers to help support his
family after his father's death. Anderson soon learned of complaints from northern construction workers building nearby Wilson
Dam that they could not get their hometown newspapers. Seizing a business opportunity, Anderson coordinated with northern
newspaper publishers and the railroads to ship a number of these papers to Florence, where he sold them from a crude newsstand
built from piano crates. Within a few years, his profits allowed Anderson and his brother to invest in their first book store
in downtown Florence.
Charles C. Anderson, Clyde's son, inherited the store in 1950 and began expanding it into a chain of bookstores that were incorporated under the name Bookland in 1964. In the 1970s, Bookland continued to expand into shopping malls that were springing up all over the Southeast. By 1980, the company boasted 50 stores, and Charles Anderson had also established a book and periodical distribution business. Charles's sons, Charles Jr. and Clyde B., began working in both the bookstores and the wholesale business. In 1988, Bookland acquired Gateway Books, a chain of stores based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and doubled the size of the company, but 27 of 50 stores were closed later because they were underperforming. Charles Anderson Jr. took the excess books and fixtures and opened the first of the company's superstores in 1988 in Huntsville. Although this first store was not a success, the company soon opened a 30,000-square-foot superstore near the same location under the name Books-A-Million. It was a success from the beginning and solidified the company's entry into the superstore format.
In 1992, the company officially changed its name to Books-A-Million, Inc., and went public on the NASDAQ exchange with an initial stock offering of 2.6 million shares at $13 per share. By 1993, Books-A-Million had 113 stores across the Southeast, including approximately 84 Bookland stores and 29 Books-A-Million superstores. Although the company continued to operate Bookland stores, the number of superstores rose and the number of smaller stores declined; there are still a number of them in existence, however.
To distinguish itself from its competitors, the company kept a regional focus by allowing its stores to initiate marketing campaigns for books of particular interest to customers in their local markets. For example, stores in Alabama have launched special campaigns for books on a successful season for the University of Alabama's football team and the death of a local NASCAR celebrity. In addition to special marketing campaigns, stores also began to feature book signings and readings, particularly of books by southern authors.
In 1998, Books-A-Million launched its own Web site. Operating as booksamillion.com, this site offers the same discounts available in its retail outlets. In 1999, the company acquired NetCentral, a firm specializing in Web-site design and e-commerce solutions, and began operating a book wholesale and distribution subsidiary, American Wholesale Book Company. Approximately 150 of the Books-A-Million retail outlets also contain a Joe Muggs Cafe, which the company expanded into a series of free-standing Joe Muggs Newsstands, featuring fireplaces, outdoor patios, and a full selection of specialty coffee drinks, pastries, and more than 3,500 magazine titles.
Books-A-Million remains one of Alabama's most successful businesses and a successful competitor on the national scene. Currently, the company employs approximately
5,000 employees in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Alabama is host to approximately 26 stores, including several Joe
O'Donnell, Joe. The Forge, Metal to Medicine: Birmingham's Business History. Birmingham, Ala.: Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, 2007.
Herbert J. "Jim" Lewis
Published August 1, 2008
Last updated July 11, 2011