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Nobody Has a Clue

30 November 2017

Today, Barnes & Noble announced its latest quarterly loss. You’ll see several news reports in the following posts.

In the world of coachspeak (see examples below), coaches spout the same clichés over and over again without really saying anything.

PG didn’t listen to the Barnes & Noble earnings (losses) call with analysts today (he had previously planned to floss his teeth), but the quotes from BN’s CEO of the week sound like corporate coachspeak.

“As a result of the improving trends, we will continue to place a greater emphasis on books.”

“There’s too much stuff in the stores.”

“definite shift in strategy”

“Our goal is to get smaller.”

“Through customer research, we discovered that customers come to Barnes & Noble not only to browse and discover, but also to interact with our booksellers. This is a big takeaway for our store managers from a recent conference.”

“We remain laser focused on cost reduction initiatives that are centered on realizing efficiencies and simplification.”

“And while we’re not ready for prime time yet, I feel the team has done a very good job at loading up the pipeline with a lot of good ideas.”

“I think we’ve done a nice job of coming together to understand what needs to happen here.”

“What we can tell you is we have a better plan than we did at the start of the year.”

Here’s a transcript of the entire call.

PG’s editorial summary: They understand they’re pathetic but don’t have any idea how to change, so it’s leadership by cliché.

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21 Comments to “Nobody Has a Clue”

  1. “Our goal is to get smaller.”

    Well… that’s one target they should have no trouble meeting.

    • But cutting their rental bills might not be so easy.

      • That’s likely their #1 problem. The monthly overhead on those megastores has to hurt.

        I dunno, maybe they could fix their web site, or stock books people wanted in their stores, or sublet store space to used car lots… hey, Rent-A-Closets! They’re a growth industry, and air-conditioned storage goes for a premium.

  2. “We remain laser focused …”

    Anybody seen those little lights you spike into the ground that will cover the side of your house in dots of lights? Those are split laser beams (and about as scattered as B&N’s plans/ideas.)

  3. They don’t give much consideration to the idea that they just aren’t carrying the books that people are buying.

    Because people are buying more books than ever. They’re just spreading their money around to more Indies, more midlist, more backlist…
    …and more Amazon imprint books.

    Any chance they’ll ever rethink the boycott while Riggio runs the show? I’m thinking not.

    Bet they wish they’d kept B. DALTON open. Those stores were just the right size and mix for today’s market.

    A bit late they realize that small (plus online) is the way to go. Main problem is: shrinking costs money. And right now I doubt they can afford to rightsize their stores without a rinse through chapter 11. If they wait much longer it might not be doable even with bankruptcy protection.

    • We should be able to test that by comparing B&N stores by size. If sales per shelf-foot are a function of the number of titles in the collection, then stores with a larger selection of titles should show greater sales per shelf foot.

      I don’t know. Riggio stopped calling soon after Bezos stopped. But B&N is now calling for smaller stores.

      It would seem novels from big publishers, independents,and Amazon are all close substitutes.

      • Except sales for big publishers novels ate declining (reflected in the various bestseller lists) and those sales are going to smaller tradpubs, APub, and Indies.

        Given the shape of their reported finances I suspect a big chunk (all?) of their cash flow is tied to front table payola and the rest of their floor space is effectively fallow, so increasing it or reducing it only impacts their store overhead.

        It would take a forensic accountant to verify, though.

  4. Nice John Crist video to illustrate B&N thinking!

  5. “As a result of the improving trends, we will continue to place a greater emphasis on books.”

    Because, maybe, when someone goes to a bookstore, they think they might actually find a bunch of books?

    “There’s too much stuff in the stores.”

    So those toys and games and tchotchkes aren’t working out for you? Who would have guessed?

    “Through customer research, we discovered that customers come to Barnes & Noble not only to browse and discover, but also to interact with our booksellers. This is a big takeaway for our store managers from a recent conference.”

    :::headdesk:::
    I remember a time, probably 10 years ago, when I walked into a B&N looking for a kind of book, nothing specific in mind, and encountering a bookseller with whom I had a conversation. He knew what I was talking about, we chatted about ideas for a while, and then he made relevant suggestions. Because he had experience and education and knew books.

  6. “Our goal is to get smaller.”

    Their appeal is becoming more selective.

  7. “PG’s editorial summary: They understand they’re pathetic but don’t have any idea how to change, so it’s leadership by cliché.”

    That’s essentially what I said last quarter.
    https://the-digital-reader.com/2017/09/08/bns-new-plan-save-wait-sell-stuff/

    • I don’t know if it’s leadership, as much as a game of “string the stockholders along. ”

      I noticed years ago that their yearly pronouncements had little to do with reality, and everything with image management. “We will develop international operations and synchronize the coefficients of sales vectors.” Year after year of the same nonsense.

  8. I recently entered a B&N after a few years absence. It was night and day compared to before. Utterly. Workers knew nothing…not even where subject areas were in the store! There was not one conversation between a worker and a customer while I was in there that didn’t involve the cash register. It really wasn’t in great shape either, compared to what it was. And that store is a big one, in a very prime location too.

  9. I was shopping at BN yesterday with my daughter’s Goodreads list open on my phone. She has 177 in her want to read list. I wasn’t sure how up to date the list was though, so narrowed down to the last 20. I found 1 at the store. I browsed through the list, noting most were YA historical (before the end of WW II but after 1900) so I looked for similar kinds of books for YA. Found none.

    I did end up getting signed copies of The Giver and Andy Weir’s Artemis though. Neither were on her list, but I couldn’t pass them up. I think she read The Giver already. (hopefully she doesn’t read this blog! lol)

    I spent $50, but would have spent more if there had been a greater selection.

    • That’s the thing, B&N’s model is “books that are close enough.” Good for gifts where you don’t know exactly what will fit, and back in the old days when there weren’t many choices when you wanted something new to read.

  10. I think B&N ought to change their strategy to being more of an event center for book-related events, food, & merchandise. They could have book-themed escape rooms, author events, dress-up costume parties, etc.

    A lot of malls are doing the event center stuff to survive now. Just recently a mall nearby opened a Harry Potter-themed section of the mall. It was about as large as a few kiosks put together but hugely popular.

    I don’t know what the overhead would be like, but I do know that just selling books and toys isn’t a good plan for their future.

  11. Smart Debut Author

    But wait, what about “digital fatigue”?

    You mean millennials *aren’t* rushing back to bookstores?

    They aren’t all sniffing and fondling those “real” books again, the way we kept hearing?

    • “They aren’t all sniffing and fondling those “real” books again, the way we kept hearing?”

      Er… have you smelled most current new books?

      Take care.

      Ferran

  12. No matter how you slice it or what facet of the entertainment industry (or even sports for example), a company that is bleeding money like a stuck pick will not recover without a change of leadership, which in this case probably won’t happen until the owner moves on to the astro-plane….or if an activist shareholder muscles his way in.

    I stopped buying stuff at B&N because I couldn’t find anything that piqued my curiosity, or just find anything in general. In fact, the last item I bought at B&N was earlier this year with a gift card: Jenga.

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