Why Barnes and Noble still lives.

Short version: they decided to decentralize the book selection process and concentrate on selling, well, books.

“Barnes & Noble was suffering a remorseless erosion of book sales as they put more and more things that weren’t books into their stores, which weren’t selling,” Daunt told me by phone from Cary, N.C., a stop on an inspection tour of Barnes & Noble stores on the Eastern Seaboard. “Since then, we’ve changed the balance of product within our stores and focused dramatically more on books.”

The result, he says, has been a “nice and healthy increase in overall sales, driven by a significant increase in book sales.” Daunt evicted “a ton of completely irrelevant products” that occupied the stores’ shelves — batteries, electronic chargers, water — “a ton of products you’d find in a CVS or Target where they perfectly sensibly sell you everything you need for everyday life, but which made absolutely no sense in a bookstore.”

That’s one reason I don’t trust merch for my own stuff, much: it takes up space, and there’s no guarantee that it’ll sell. I’m also not convinced that merch sells books. I can absolutely see why it works for things like music concerts, where people are hyped up and excited to buy, but at the level I’m currently operating I don’t expect to see many people “in a condition of swoon” in response to my next book.

Anyway, good article. I think B&N’s smart to do things like not have one layout for all of its stores, and letting individual managers stock books based on what their customers want. Which you’d think would sound obvious, but apparently wasn’t. Go figure.

Moe Lane

(H/t: @JayCaruso)

4 thoughts on “Why Barnes and Noble still lives.”

  1. Amazing what happens when you respect your audience. The local Books-A-Million still struggles with the Pop-culture bloat, but most of it is at least related to Games and Movie merch, which are… Book-adjacent if done right.

  2. I used to work for Barnes & Noble a long time ago. Everything except the cafe eventually.
    The store layouts were all determined from New York as they wanted a similar look at each location, which was fine, but it meant that the majority of books that were highlighted were selected from New York. There were select number of end-caps that were able to be done by the individual store employees. I always had fun and let a few employees set them according to their favorite book sections.
    Those were the years that they started getting into the merchandising selections and this was mainly due to the Star Wars movies (1, 2, and 3) that came out and they started flooding the stores with that merchandise. The beast then grew from that point.
    One point in favor of B&N was the music section – as long as we were able to choose what to highlight and play in the store, we could sell what was playing with no problem. But if we were told what to play or when they switched the system to more streaming, we could not highlight what was in the store and sales of music then went down. A lot of people came in just to have a coffee, read a book, and listen to the music selected. The magazine/paper section was the same way, when we were given autonomy on what to bring in, we could maximize the items to bring in that would sell and reduce what wouldn’t.
    But the kicker for B&N was when they tried to go for the Amazon customer base. They had a reader (that they tried to get content that was only available for them and could not be used on any other readers – *cough* kindle *cough*). They tried to get authors to only publish with them instead of being able to sell on Amazon. But the whole idea went down in flames as they didn’t have enough content to be able to beat Amazon. And what author would sign agreements for only using B&N, when they had much broader reach with Amazon.
    Anyway, long story short, New York has always made decisions for the rest of the country regarding their locations. But the best sales for our location came out of what we were able to set up and control.

    1. “But the best sales for our location came out of what we were able to set up and control.”

      Naturally. I think B&N is now trying to create a chain of individualized bookstores that all draw from the same supply chain, which honestly sounds like the smart play.

  3. As a note, when I want a charge cord I hit up the local dollar tree. Same for batteries. There are some non-printed items I would look for in a bookstore, but those are mostly accessories for books (like a reading light).

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