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Barnes & Noble’s chief digital officer is “meh” on the threat of Amazon

15 March 2016

From Quartz:

Following speculation that Amazon would open hundreds of brick-and-mortar stores as a follow-up to its first store in Seattle, the company plans this summer to open a second physical bookstore, this one in San Diego.

Fred Argir, chief digital officer at Barnes & Noble, is unfazed.

At the Digital Book World conference in New York this week, Argir brushed off questions about Amazon’s plans. “My win percentage on predicting what Amazon is going to do is very low,” he said in a Q&A with conference chair Mike Shatzkin. “They’re going to do whatever they want to do.”

Argir’s shrug-off comes a few weeks after Barnes & Noble CEO Ron Boire said the company would open a new prototype store that adds a digital component to the experience. (So far the company hasn’t provided any details about a date or location.)

Argir said he sees Barnes & Noble stores as very different from Amazon’s—a place where you can get coffee and have a “family experience.”

. . . .

 Michael Cader, founder of Publishers Lunch, a popular industry publication, and a conference organizer, told Quartz, “The way Barnes & Noble improves its performance is by losing less money on Nook.”

Link to the rest at Quartz

Here’s the summary of Mr. Argir’s experience from the Barnes & Noble press release announcing his appointment as Chief Digital Officer:

Mr. Argir joined Toys “R” Us in 2012. In his role as Chief Digital Officer, he oversaw digital businesses in 13 countries. Prior to that, he was Chief Information Officer at The Sports Authority, Inc. based in Denver, CO, where he led the organization through a formal web redesign, incrementally increasing page conversion through a focus on improved usability and experience. He also served as a consultant to Best Buy, Inc. based in Minneapolis, MN, where he collaborated on productivity and strategic technology investments. Mr. Argir also spent five years at Target Corporation as Vice President of Supply Chain Development. Additionally, he served on the Board of the Global Commerce Initiative.

Mr. Argir also appears to be an indie singer/songwriter.

Amazon, Bookstores, Ebooks, Nook

17 Comments to “Barnes & Noble’s chief digital officer is “meh” on the threat of Amazon”

  1. At the Digital Book World conference in New York this week, Argir brushed off questions about Amazon’s plans. “My win percentage on predicting what Amazon is going to do is very low,” he said in a Q&A with conference chair Mike Shatzkin.

    Merely ‘birds of a feather . . . ‘ or evidence that stupid is contagious?

    • Both ‘owned’ by the same puppet-master?

    • He lost me on “win percentage”.

      Sorry- I tune out buzz words because people who use them don’t really have an answer. It’s a non-answer that sounds like it’s an answer.

      He sounds pretty much clueless. But I’m sure he’ll get paid either way…

  2. So, does that “family experience” include the alcohol some of their stores are trying to get licenses for? Just wondering…

    I think he’s trying to come off as nonchalant while freaking out inside. They’re grasping at anything and everything to maintain status. Not having any idea of what the digital industry needs probably leaves them feeling panicked and powerless.

  3. So, if I read his resume correctly — NO experience, nada, zip, zilch, nichts — at selling BOOKS?

    • Do you think such is really necessary? I mean, it’s stories. People are hungry for them. Really the biggest thing a bookseller can do right now is get out of the way between readers and authors — like Amazon has.

      That said, he’s doing a terrible job as CDO at B&N. Their website is still bad, the Nook Press thing or whatever it’s called now is still bad . . .

      I mean, I wonder how frustrating it must be to be chief digital officer at a major book retailer who obviously doesn’t want to support digital reading.

      • Yes, I do. I don’t believe there’s any better way to know how to do a job than some degree of experience at having actually done it.

      • I’m kind of defending him since he’s only been on the job 9 months. The fixes that B&N has been working on for years for their website have already been announced not to be enough, which is likely his input.

        That said, I’ll repeat what I said below and you implied above: how much can he do when his bosses are the ones who have run B&N online into the ground?

  4. “Meh, we’re sinking fast enough, it’s not like Amazon could make us die off any faster …”

  5. “Fred Argir, chief digital officer at Barnes & Noble, is unfazed.”

    So, Fred, please explain why the B&N website is still a horrid mess these many years.

    Perhaps you should concentrate on doing your job instead of mouthing mindless prognostications while your (and B&N’s) heads are firmly sunk in the sand.

    • “So, Fred, please explain why the B&N website is still a horrid mess these many years.”

      Even though (as Wayne notes below) he’s only been there a short time, you’d think that you’d want to hire a “Chief Digital Officer” who had a track record of overseeing web sites that didn’t suck.

      The Toys “R” Us, Sports Authority, and Best Buy sites were all pretty horrible the last time I was on any of them. Granted, that was quite a while ago, which says something in itself, doesn’t it?

  6. “Fred Argir, chief digital officer at Barnes & Noble, is unfazed.”

    So, Fred, please explain why the B&N website is still a horrid mess these many years.

    Perhaps you should concentrate on doing your job instead of mouthing mindless prognostications while your (and B&N’s) heads are firmly sunk in the sand.

    Oh, and how’s that Nook thing workin’ out for ya?

    • I don’t think it’s a bad answer. He is not in charge of competing against physical stores, and is there anyone good at predicting what Amazon will do? He’s trying to avoid mindless guessing on what Amazon will do instead of the absolute certainty of so many others.

      That said, yeah it’s good he’s not paying attention to Amazon’s physical store threat because B&N’s digital side needs a bit of a fix. The fix they were working on for the website for years seems to be already getting a new reworking.

      He’s only been in B&N for 9 months now though so most of the past screw-ups have been someone else’s fault. But how much can he fix even if he was some kind of genius with the kind of bosses he has?

  7. Looking at the companies he’s worked for, I’m not getting much of a “make the customer happy” vibe.

  8. Do listen to his ode to Amazon: “And Then There’s You.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2lqfxJDOdA

    • Well, he does have excellent taste in acoustic guitars. That particular Martin he’s playing probably costs more than all the money Barnes & Noble has spent on on its web design.

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