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Barnes & Noble To Be Like Indie Bookstores

barnesandnoble
Credit: Bloomberg.com

I’ve written previously about the painfully slow demise of Barnes & Noble, and their continued attempts at transformation. It seems pretty obvious, at least when I step into my local stores, that they need to down-size and stop selling toys & games. A book store should focus on selling books. Or is that insanity?

Their new CEO and cut-throat hedge fund owners seem to think this is the right move as well, and in a new article over at Bloomberg it appears that B&N will be turning another corner and trying to mimic independent bookstores. The same type of stores they spent many years putting out of business. Oh, the irony…

I’m torn over this.

I dislike Barnes & Noble, but I dislike Amazon more, for a variety of reasons. That, and at some point B&N stopped instructing their employees to aggressively engage customers about add-ons during every purchase. This was also a good move, because while I’ll never begrudge someone for doing their job, it was just obnoxious trying to buy a $5 paperback and getting the “hard sell” at the register.

I can only imagine my local Barnes and Noble will relocate from the massive shopping mall it currently inhabits, in an attempt to reduce square footage. This would be a good thing as well. I’d prefer to see a more intimate store with some character, and more importantly the flexibility to shelve interesting titles. An emphasis on customer service would be nice too.

Oh and please, PLEASE just finally kill off the Nook. Please. It’s getting sad at this point.

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The Future of Barnes & Noble

image of people in a bookstore

Barnes & Noble Sold

I just heard that Barnes & Noble was sold to Elliot, a venture capital firm that also owns the U.K. bookseller Waterstones.

I have had a tenuous, love/hate kind of relationship with B&N, and have blogged about it in the past. I’m not a fan of the way Barnes & Noble annihilated numerous other book retailers and mom&pop shops through the late 1990’s and 2K’s (similar to Blockbuster Video), but it’s nice to have an option besides Amazon if my local indie book seller can’t get what I want. Plus, I’m still one of those weirdos who reads “enthusiast magazines” and B&N is literally the only brick and mortar retailer I know who stocks a variety of those.

Venture capital firm purchases are almost always dicey, but at least B&N will still exist.

What I’d like to see happen

  • Get some personality: The pitch is a more “decentralized” model where the individual stores have a bit more autonomy. I think this is a great idea, and knowing some actual real-life B&N employees, I think its for the best. I have three Barnes & Noble in my general vicinity, and the one that does best allows its workers to inject personality and unique style into the space. It makes the place feel a bit more like a large indie book store, and feels inviting.
  • Re-focus on books: Get rid of the toys, games, Funko Pop figurines, and all that other junk, and add a wider selection of things to read! I’m still all for book-related gifts like Moleskines, bookmarks, and reading lights. That’s fine. But if I want vinyl I’ll go to a record store. Give me a horror and expanded literature section.
  • Kill the Nook: Just do it. Please. Put the thing into the landfill with all those copies of “E.T.” for the Atari.
  • Engage local reading and and writing communities: More local author readings, more book clubs, more big names stopping in on their book tours. All of it. Give readers a reason to drop by.

Better Than Nothing

I’m still a proponent of local independent bookstores over Barnes & Noble (support your local indie!) but it’s better than having no stores at all. Amazon is just the coldest experience possible. No tactile feel, no page whoosh, no book smell.

I guess we’ll see what the future holds for Barnes & Noble, and I hope it’s a turn for the better.

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The Slow Death of Barnes&Noble

barnes and noble logo

Barnes & Noble recently laid off 1800 employees.

This is one more step along its slow demise along with other “big box” brands being cannibalized by Amazon and other online retailers.

On Monday morning, every single Barnes & Noble location – that’s 781 stores – told their full-time employees to pack up and leave. The eliminated positions were as follows: the head cashiers (those are the people responsible for handling the money), the receiving managers (the people responsible for bringing in product and making sure it goes where it should), the digital leads (the people responsible for solving Nook problems), the newsstand leads (the people responsible for distributing the magazines), and the bargain leads (the people responsible for keeping up the massive discount sections).

I’m conflicted by this news, because I have something of a love/hate relationship with B&N.

Let’s start with the bad points first

  • I don’t ever want to see people lose their jobs. Ever.
  • B&N handled this really poorly. Not unexpected from a large corporation, but still not right.
  • B&N becoming a victim of “efficiency” and “profitability” at the sake of no longer being an interesting place to drink coffee and peruse books. Ayn Rand ultra-capitalism in action.
  • One less place to purchase books in your neighborhood (eventually), and one less e-reader to foster competition in the online space

Now let’s focus on the “good” points

  • Barnes & Noble (and Borders) all but killed independent bookstores in the 1990’s. Their collapse will create a space for small business owners to rise up
  • The lack of any physical bookstore in an area may drive people back to their local library (we can hope).
  • With proper leadership, maybe Barnes & Noble can save itself and get back to selling books on a smaller scale (instead of toys and board games)

There are a few items I purchase regularly at my local B&N, mainly magazines, that Amazon doesn’t carry. Shocking, I know.

The problem is that Barnes & Noble has begun to reek of desperation, in all the wrong ways. Like other big retailers who had their predatory hay day in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and ignored digital sales ::cough, Gamestop, cough:: they are adopting wildly irritating tactics in an attempt to salvage their remaining customers.

I want to buy a book or magazine. I do not want to

  • sign up for your discount card
  • buy more things to “save money”
  • sign up for your marketing emails under the guise of “getting my receipt emailed to me”

These are all annoyances that make myself, and most customers I bet, just want to shop online even more. This latest move to eliminate their full-time employees aka “the knowledgeable people who will provide customer service” will only hurt their shoppers experience even further.

What do you think? Do you shop at Barnes & Noble? Will you sit on the sidelines, shopping at Amazon until you hear about the going-out-of-business sale to get cheap hardcovers?

I won’t mourn the death of Barnes & Noble specifically, but more what its collapse signifies.