Memo: To the New CEO of Barnes & Noble

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Shawn Rossi, “Barnes & Noble” [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Last week, Elliott Management agreed to buy Barnes & Noble for $683 million. Elliott owns Waterstones in the UK, with James Daunt as its CEO. He would become CEO of Barnes & Noble. Many hailed this move because under Daunt, Waterstone’s has experienced a significant turnaround, and Daunt came up through the ranks as a bookseller and has spoken about reclaiming the “honourable profession” of bookselling. The picture became a bit murkier when Readerlink announced that it is pursuing a counteroffer to that of Elliott Management. Readerlink supplies books to retail outlets like Walmart and Target. If deeds done may predict the future, I think most booklovers would appreciate the approach of Daunt and Elliott Management to Readerlink. Many think Barnes & Noble has already suffered as it has been “Walmart-ized.”

I asked the question at my Bob on Books Facebook page of what advice my followers would give the new CEO at Barnes & Noble, either Daunt or someone else. The page has a number of dedicated readers, and they gave a dedicated response. Here are some of the areas they commented on:

The “vibe” of the store: People like the comfortable atmosphere, want to keep the coffee shop, and would like stores to offer more comfortable seating.

The bookseller: This was one of the most significant areas where a number noted decline. In earlier years, people found the booksellers interesting to talk to and knowledgeable. Some noted that in recent years, the booksellers have been replaced by fewer, and more part-time people, still trying to be helpful and polite, but under more pressure. Hopefully the new CEO will realize that the greatest asset in these stores that set them apart from online sellers is the bookseller and allocate funds accordingly. What makes every successful indie successful are booksellers who love books, and cater to readers who love and want to buy books.

Selection:  Readers lamented the declines they’ve seen in the selection of books, particularly in the area of fiction. One reader offered this example: “The fiction selection there is horrible now. For example, if you’re looking for Herman Melville, you’ll get several editions of Moby Dick, but no Typee, Billy Budd, etc.” Another reader said, “In short, try to appeal to a more discerning crowd instead of all the formulaic, mainstream crap.” Some would like more international periodicals and newspapers as well. Several readers made the point one reader made succinctly: “More books, less toys.” (However one reader pointed out that educators find the toys and games section an important part of the shopping experience.) One reader suggested QR codes on shelves to link readers to the Barnes & Noble website for other books by an author, or similar books, a feature that might discourage them from “showrooming” with that online retailer.

Price: Most readers are aware of how retail sales of new books are critical to supporting authors. However price is an issue, especially for those who read many books. At $30 or more for a hardcover, new books are out of reach for some, who choose the library or second-hand stores and charity sales instead. But people don’t want Barnes & Noble to become a Walmart of books: low prices on a limited, mainstream selection. One wonders if a discount could be scaled to the number of books or amount spent by a customer a year.

Promotions and partnerships: People would like to see promotions to bring people into the store, whether a free beverage each month or occasional BIG booksales to draw in the community. Other readers suggest partnerships with schools and libraries, particularly in communities distant from a Barnes & Noble store (in many cases from any bookstore).

I was surprised by how many people love their Barnes & Noble store (I do too). They want to keep them open and see them do better. My sense is that they want to encounter a store run by passionate booklovers for booklovers, a store with an interesting and diverse selection, and one where the feeling is, “make yourself comfortable and stay awhile.” Is that so hard?

 

 

2 thoughts on “Memo: To the New CEO of Barnes & Noble

  1. I agree with one of the comments above that the selection of “literary” fiction — and poetry — is woeful, at least in the store that I frequent. They have an over abundance of modern, “popular” fiction, but, as just one example, they didn’t have one copy of Honore de Balzac’s widely acclaimed Père Goriot. I had to go to Amazon for that, and I do try to avoid Amazon if at all possible.

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