An Open Letter to Barnes & Noble

From RobEager, Marketing Consultant:

On behalf of all authors, we want to see your company grow and succeed. Amazon needs a legitimate competitor in order to limit their dominance and create a healthier publishing ecosystem. It is important for your bookstores to thrive and expand.

Your organization’s new CEO, James Daunt, made headlines by turning around the Waterstones bookstore chain in England. Now, he wants to apply a similar strategy in America by redecorating every store, reducing the amount of returns, and giving each store manager greater power over their local inventory.

However, I recently visited a Barnes & Noble location near Atlanta, Georgia. What I saw didn’t give me much optimism about the future.

The store layout looked no different than before. The same bestseller displays were in the same place. The green carpet appeared worn and dirty. A skeleton crew was manning the room. There was too much space dedicated to music, movies, toys, and dumb knick-knacks.

In addition, the website doesn’t look much different than before. It still seems light years behind Amazon’s website experience.

In other words, where is the dramatic transformation that was promised? During the coronavirus shutdown, CEO Daunt reported that the downtime was used to reface the company. I don’t see any improvements, which gives me and other authors concern about your viability.

. . . .

1. Improve your website

B& is at a distinct disadvantage to Amazon primarily due to a lackluster website. More books are purchased online than in stores. So, if you want to grow, you’ve got to capture more online sales.

Frankly, B&N’s website feels like walking into a boring library. Compared to Amazon, there is a tiny fraction of customer reviews to read. Most of a book’s marketing text is hidden or pushed down the page. Worst of all, B&N charges different prices for the same book.

On a recent B&N visit to purchase a business-genre book, the on-shelf price was $7 higher than your website price. That’s a ridiculous disconnect and creates skepticism among savvy consumers. Charge the same price for books, whether purchased online or in-store.

2. Offer marketing partnerships for authors

Want to know a hidden reason why Amazon is crushing B&N? Author favoritism. Every day, authors directly send millions of their fans to Amazon, instead of you. Consider how many authors only mention Amazon on their websites, e-newsletters, blogs, and social media pages. B&N is never mentioned. When you consider the millions of links that authors create for their fans to buy books, it represents millions of dollars in lost sales for B&N.

Why are authors partial to Amazon? For several reasons, such as Amazon offers a robust advertising platform just for authors. Amazon gives self-published authors the best royalty rates and provides extra income for writers who make their e-books exclusive to KDP Select. Amazon even lets authors adjust their book detail page whenever they want for free. B&N doesn’t offer authors any of these features.

Convince authors to stop showing favoritism by developing innovative marketing opportunities. For example, create an affiliate program with generous commission rates and hassle-free technical support. Build an online advertising system that any author can afford. Make it easier for authors to host in-store events that you help promote to the community. Authors will become part of your sales force – if you start meeting our needs.

. . . .

4. Cut the cafe crap and just sell books

Let’s be honest. Please stop trying to add wine bars, coffee shops, or taverns inside your stores. Those ideas failed along with the disastrous Nook e-reader device. All you’re doing is distracting people from your core concept.

Just focus on selling books. Get rid of the music, cafe, and DVD sections. Use that square footage to increase more space for books. It’s hard to call yourself a bookstore when half of the room seems devoted to non-reading activities. People would rather go somewhere else to get coffee, somewhere else to buy music, and somewhere else to drink wine. Become a great bookstore experience that readers cannot resist.

Link to the rest at RobEager, Marketing Consultant

PG didn’t know that Barnes & Noble sells DVDs.

PG doesn’t recall seeing a retail location that offered DVDs for sale for decades, generations, maybe centuries.

8 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Barnes & Noble”

  1. Oh-kaaayyy…
    I clicked through and while his diagnosis looks good it is based on visiting one store? And an old one? If it had been one of the new model stords it might have a bit more weight.
    Also underwhelming was his marketing suggestion: Kiosks. In theaters.

    A company under pandemic stress is going to rely on an industry that is at a bigger risk?
    Counting on moviegoers wanting to read the book the movie is based on? When most moneymaking movies are based on comics? Or derived/copied from another movie?

    Sorry, not impressed.

  2. We went to our local (rehabbed) B&N last week. Its romance section (yeah, I know, I know) was 1/4 the size of the old store’s. The SF section wasn’t much better. The children’s section had nothing at all in Spanish, which the old store used to carry. The nonfiction section (I tend to home in on history) was 1/3 the size of Half Price Books’, which is a few blocks further west along the same street. Along the aisle were large racks of vinyl records, Legos, the corner coffee bar, and lots of tschotschkes. The store was immaculately clean.

    Yet I would give B&N another chance as an author-partner if they would make even modest steps toward partnering with writers as Eager suggests. During the days before I indie published, I was published with small presses. Borders would deal with us; B&N just wasn’t interested. I’d like to see them change this stance, at least a little.

  3. There was too much space dedicated to music, movies, toys, and dumb knick-knacks.

    So, why did B&N switch shelf space from books to dumb knick-knacks? Think it might be because they could make more money per shelf foot with dumb stuff than with books?

    We have heard for years that B&N could save itself if it just stocked even more books. That might have worked in the days before the world’s largest selection of books was blinking a few feet in front of me. But not today.

  4. We’ve heard “more” books, we’ve heard “less books”; we’ve heard “toys and trinkets”, and we’ve heard “lifestyle merchandise”: we’ve heard “coffee and cookies”, booze, and upscale dining.
    Each proposal has its fans and its rationale.
    None has moved the needle.
    The issue isn’t what they sell but rather *how* they sell–brick and mortar–and who they sell to–nowhere near enough customers. All the proposals have floundered on the shoals of low foot traffic.
    Until they figure out how to get more people in the stores, whatever they stock will remain largely unseen and unbought.
    It’s just not a great business to be in, full of negatives and few positives otber than “return for credit” and “we’re not Amazon”

  5. Those who can, do.
    Those who can’t, teach.
    Those who can’t teach, consult.

    1. “The store layout looked no different than before.” — followed by “If you want to turn the company around, focus less on cosmetic changes ” – how about a consistent message in your lead paragraphs, Mr. Consultant?

    2. “Improve your website” – at this point, what’s the ROI on improving Probably not great.

    3. “Price match the website” – customers pay a premium for visiting a brick and mortar store because of higher costs. That they don’t want to do so is one of the sources of their poor traffic, but those higher costs aren’t going to go away with the wave of a price scanner.

    4. “Build an affiliate program” – again, development costs vs benefits, which would be long term. At this point, B&N needs short term benefits, not long term ones.

    5. “Pay a better ebook royalty” – right. Make LESS money.

    6. “Advertise where readers congregate” – If it’s such a good idea, why don’t (or wouldn’t) theaters just order books themselves and sell them at their concession stands, where they already have cashiers. What do they need B&N for? If they wanted B&N to handle the ordering and stocking, how much would that cost the respective parties? Would it be worth hiring staff at B&N to run this? Doubtful.

    7. “Just sell books” – it doesn’t matter what you have for sale if there are no customers. Cafes at least get people in the door.

    8. “Consider the millions of authors who could start telling their fans to buy from Barnes & Noble, instead of Amazon.” – Millions!! and all they need to do is recommend B&N over Amazon!

    9. Ending with a course offering. Click through that and you can watch a video guided tour of the course. I’ll leave that up to someone else, I have work to do.

  6. Each proposal has its fans and its rationale.

    The greatest danger to fans and rational is the prospect that the idea might actually be tried somewhere.

  7. One wonders just how much the use and misuse of logistical consolidation for “efficiency” — such as, but not only through, the reduction in the number of viable national distributors of paperback books in the early 1990s from about 25 to about 4 — influenced B&N’s increasing emphasis on non-book merchandise. Especially given the differing payment schedules and how that interfaces with B&N’s ultimate character as a real-estate play…

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