From The New Yorker:
April, Leonard Riggio announced that he was stepping away from Barnes & Noble, the business he bought forty-five years ago and transformed into the world’s largest brick-and-mortar bookstore chain. Come September, Riggio, now seventy-five, would happily retire. Or so he claimed. Though he had ceded the title of chief executive in 2002, Riggio remained the executive chairman and the soul and supreme authority of Barnes & Noble. Still, it seemed like a safe time to step down. Pummelled in recent years by Amazon’s dominance over the industry, and the hangover of the recession, Barnes & Noble had closed more than ten per cent of its stores and fended off hostile takeovers, but it was still alive. Its losses had levelled off, and sales were actually growing in many categories, including board games, vinyl records, and even some categories of books, the non-digital kind (like coloring books for grownups). In March, the company announced plans to open its first new stores in several years, and in June it unveiled its potential future: smaller locations, with full-service bars and restaurants, and a more boutique feel. It seemed to be a move away from the model of “superstores” that the company once defined itself by.
But then, in August, Riggio and the board he leads ousted Ron Boire, who had lasted less than a year as chief executive, and was the third C.E.O. to pass through Barnes & Noble since 2010.* A few weeks later, quarterly financial results presented shareholders with the cold reality of Barnes & Noble’s troubles. Losses were mounting across the board—particularly for the Nook, the company’s troubled wireless reading device—and sales were falling more quickly than expected. The company’s stock was almost a quarter of what it had been a decade ago. In response, Riggio has returned to the chief executive’s chair, ostensibly until a suitable replacement is found.
The key question for Riggio now is figuring out what purpose Barnes & Noble serves today. Amazon dominates the industry with low prices and a vast selection, and is even flirting with brick-and-mortar bookstores, having opened two in the past year. Independent bookstores—once assumed to be on their way to extinction—own the romantic notion of a bookstore as a place, like a church or a social club, where communities are nurtured. Barnes & Noble is stuck in the middle, a giant saddled with hundreds of huge stores, and an image of corporate sameness in a market that has increasingly come to treasure defiantly independent bookstores.
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Riggio believes that the same type of person shops at small independent bookstores, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. “The No. 1 consideration of where someone will shop is how close it is to where they are,” he said. “It has nothing to do with pedigree or branding. If there’s no bookstore close to them, they’re more likely to buy online. If there’s one close, they’re more likely to buy if it’s a block away.” His target market is the same as other book retailers: young, educated customers, and women with small children.
Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to Dave for the tip.