After a deep crisis, the world’s largest bookstore chain, demonization by small independent bookstores, has raised its head. Secret weapon? This article from the New York Times explains it
We often dealt with Barnes & Noble which is the world’s largest bookstore chain with over 600 stores in 50 US states. We left it on the brink of bankruptcy with the arrival of a fifth CEO in just four years.
Ultimately, the Elliott venture fund, which bravely bought the aching bookstore chain, James Donut of London, is famous for revamping another bookstore chain, this time in the UK and it is also a sore, Waterstones.
It happens now that after years of decline, sales of Barnes & Noble are starting to rise again, costs have fallen and – a miracle! Those who for decades viewed the spin-off as the supervillain of the book world are now cheering on its newfound success.
Libraries, Barnes & Noble From Demon to Angel
Who are these “those”? They are the independent booksellers, readers and writers who, up to 10 years ago, saw the chain as an evil force capable of swaying publishers’ choices and forcing independent stores to give up market share or close their doors.
Today, the entire publishing industry cheers and appreciates Barnes & Noble A unique and indispensable role In the book ecosystem. There is a general awareness that B&N helps readers discover new titles and supports publishers in continuing to rely on physical libraries.
In short, it appears that the sinister series has become a critical player in keeping the entire book economy afloat due to e-commerce. Here reigns a ruthless player, much more lethal than B&N could have been. This player is called Amazon.
Elizabeth A. Harris of The New York Times gives a point Jane Distille, literary agent With clients like Colleen Hoover who has four books on the New York Times bestseller list. Distille told Harris:
“It would be a disaster if B&N failed. There is a real fear that without this chain of bookstores, the print book business could go astray.”
For many years, the hostility of independent bookstores toward B&N was so strong that it affected the collective sentiments of the entire nation. You can see it in the movie You’ve got mail (1998). The generally “good” Tom Hanks by Nora Ephron, the film’s bland screenwriter and director, is turned into a loathsome, albeit charming, businessman who owns a chain of bookstores on the verge of bankruptcy, naturally with a happy ending. An independent bookseller in Manhattan, played by Meg Ryan, a friend of the Americans (at the time).
Anti-B&N . Alliance
In the real world, what the movie is about really happened. In the same 1990s, the American Booksellers Association, which represents thousands of independent bookstores, went so far as to file an antitrust lawsuit against Barnes & Noble. A few years ago, the same organization sued several publishers, saying that they unfairly favored the big chains by dumping prices.
In fact, not only was B&N seen as an enemy, it was also seen as everything that was wrong with book sales. This situation continued until a more powerful and ruthless enemy arrived that affected both independent companies and chains alike. Frontier goes bankrupt and B&N goes to hell. Independent libraries were waiting for doomsday. The slaying angel was precisely the Amazon.
The huge collection of books in B&N stores, over 100,000 books sold mostly at cover prices, seems like a dip in the middle of the sea in the face of the nearly limitless availability of titles on the Amazon marketplace. Many titles were often offered at steep discounts, even more substantial in their economic version.
After nearly fifteen years of crisis, despite the very turbulent intervention by Amazon also with regard to reading formats, the book industry is still based on paper. In 2021, print made up 76% of publishers’ revenue with more than half of sales on Amazon.
However, the pandemic has put B&N’s business to a severe test. For nearly two full years, there have been no introductions or autographs in most of its stores. His recreational activities collapsed. And in December, in the Christmas shopping season, Omicron arrived. Many chain stores, especially if they are located in urban centers, still have modest turnover due to the lack of tourists and smart work that has kept workers away from the offices.
Despite all these adversities, sales in B&N stores in 2021 grew 3% compared to 2019 B&N CEO, James Daunttold Harris that this growth is entirely due to the old way of doing things, which is to sell books in bookstores.
In fact, sales grew by a remarkable 14%. Daunt himself says that something unimaginable at the beginning of 2021, given the terrible way the epidemic situation has turned out.
Libraries’ secret weapon
It’s easy to buy a book online that you know the title of. You can search, click, buy and go home the next day. What fails in this process is the serendipitous discovery that can only happen by accidentally stumbling upon a book lying on a beautiful hardcover table, or a hardcover book that catches your eye as you wander through the historical non-fiction section.
No one has yet figured out how to replicate this kind of e-commerce experience. Perhaps it can only be replicated in the metaverse, that is, in some kind of augmented reality. The capacity of libraries to be a place of creation Accidental and unexpected discoveries It makes it extremely important not only to readers, but also to writers, as well as agents and publishers of all sizes.
Independent libraries play an important role in this type of discovery, but B&N plays it more because their spaces are large and can therefore provide more chance addresses.
That’s why we have a complete B&N rehab.
Descent to hell and back
In 2018, at the height of a years-long structural crisis, B&N’s board of directors came in to fire its newly appointed chief executive, the fourth in five years. Insiders are starting to seriously fear that the country’s largest bookstore chain may collapse.
The following summer, Elliott Advisors, a hedge fund, decided to buy the chain for $638 million by contacting James Daunt to manage it.
Daunt is a highly regarded manager. In the book business since 1990, he was called in 2011 to return Waterstones, Britain’s largest bookstore chain, on the verge of bankruptcy.
was a demon An accurate idea of what to do. According to his vision, the stores of a large bookstore chain had to operate on the same principles as an independent bookstore, that is, to be able to have complete freedom to adapt the commercial offer to the taste and local customers. An approach that succeeded in restoring the water stones and returning them to profitability.
A chain of stores with an independent mindset
He repeated this approach in New York, just as at Barnes & Noble. While bookstores across the country once placed orders from headquarters in New York, today the center only handles ordering minimum quantities for novelties, leaving individual store managers free to choose whether to order multiple copies based on Customer and Territory Considerations where the shop is located.
All work should be done inside the shop and there should be a decision center. Demon has too All warranty activities canceled A bookstore that thrived in previous years trying to reposition it in relation to the typical business. Daunt explains this choice in a few words:
“We were selling a lot of products that were completely unfamiliar to a bookstore. Nobody thinks: ‘I need a Duracell battery, well, I’m going to the library’.
B&N has also discontinued the practice of taking commissions from publishers to place books in highly visible places in the store, such as the doorway or in the store window. Daunt points out that it seemed like easy money, but the practice caused a lot of problems: books not wanted by the public were displayed prominently, and large orders that had not been sold had to be returned to the publisher, with management, staff and others. costs. Careless freight.
Now, store managers choose which books to promote and highlight based on the prevailing local audience trends.
Also Daunt, during the pandemic, has quite refurbished furnitureexhibition spaces, paint works for shops to make them more modern and attractive.
Barnes & Noble’s online business has also improved. It makes up only 10 percent of the chain’s total sales, but has grown 35 percent from the level of the pandemic outbreak.
Years after abandoning its e-reader, Nook, the company has redesigned the app to integrate audiobooks.
This deep reorganization of B&N was by no means painless. Headquarters staffing has been halved after many functions previously performed centrally have been moved to local stores.
Thus, the central office space, which the company leased in New York in the very expensive Central Union Square in Manhattan, was also reduced.
stay So many questions about the future by Barnes & Noble. Costs are rising in the book industry, where margins are already tight. Then there is still the fierce competition from e-commerce which can take advantage of the difficult situation of the printing industry.
There is plenty of optimism, however, as sales are growing across the industry. Book reading has grown during the pandemic lockdown and the level of engagement has not diminished, as feared, with the reopening.
In the fall, the announced films will arrive, the products that are the driving force of the entire industry. Unfortunately, 2021 was a lean year from this point of view.
“Right now, B&N’s business is driving the general public’s enthusiasm for reading,” Dawn told The New York Times.
Finally, there’s some good news under the sun.
Information from: Elizabeth A. Harris, How Barnes & Noble turned from villain to hero“The New York Times”, April 15, 2022
“Prone to fits of apathy. Introvert. Award-winning internet evangelist. Extreme beer expert.”