What is causing the uptick in independent bookstores?

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

My first real job was in a bookstore, on the sales floor of the brand new paperback department in Brentano’s on 5th Avenue in the summer of 1962. I loved that place; I loved that job; and I’ve always had a soft spot for bookstores. But, romanticism aside, the truth is that books are just about the single best consumer product to buy online rather than in a store. For many reasons.

First of all, there’s finding what you want. An online bookseller will be able to offer you 15 million titles or so. A bookstore will offer no more than half-a-percent of the universe (which would be 75,000 titles) and most have far fewer than that. When Amazon began, there were more like half-a-million possible titles and many super bookstores carried 20-30 percent of them (more than 100,000 titles). And even then, before the numbers had shifted so massively, Jeff Bezos saw that books were the best place to start for an internet retailer.

Thus, the odds of finding any particular book in a store have moved from reasonable to minuscule. But on top of that, books are heavy, so if you are going anywhere after the bookstore, carrying a purchase around can be a nuisance. And how often do you “need” that next book right now, rather than it being just as good to get it in a day or two? (If you need it right now, you’d better be really lucky in what you’re looking for and the store you’re going to.)

The point is that book purchases, at least for personal reading (books for gifts and heavily-illustrated books are different, but are a smaller slice of the total sales) have moved from stores to online for compelling reasons, and there is no reason to think they won’t continue to. It is hard to see physical retail bookselling as a growth business.

But, in fact, the number of independent bookstores has been growing for the last decade. This has been a real cause for celebration in many quarters. Publishers are certainly glad to be seeing some additional inventory-stocking outlets springing up.

Why is this? Harvard Business School professor Ryan Raffaelli has formulated an answer based on his “3 Cs”. They are community, curation, and convening. By this he means that bookstores provide a “community” function, their owners perform a “curation” service by winnowing down the book selection, and they offer the opportunity for like-minded people to “convene” around an information quest or a purpose. He alliteratively wraps this all up with “collective identity”. And he discourages us from looking at the profitability of those stores; just the fact that they are there in recently-increasing numbers, he believes, constitutes the important indicator.

Does anybody else see a remarkable congruence between this vision of bookstores and what has always been the function of libraries?

. . . .

I can agree that community, curation, and convening are good touchstones for any bookstore owner to keep in mind to build their business. But I can’t agree that these are the explanation for why bookstores have been growing in number.

My nominee for “most important reason for indie bookstores growing in number” is also a “c”, but one that wasn’t mentioned. It is “closing”. By that I mean the “closing” of the Borders chain in 2011, almost precisely the date when the indie resurgence, tracked by number of active stores, began.

When several hundred Borders stores closed at one time, it moved the reduction of shelf space ahead of the declining demand for retail bookstores. Even in the bookstore market of 2010, reduced as it was from two decades before by Amazon and ebooks, there were a lot of people served by those closed Borders stores who hadn’t yet completely made the switch to buying all their books online. That could have been 30 percent or more of existing retail bookstore shelf space that was closed. (Borders was not 30 percent of the stores, but all of their stores were very big ones.)

So independents have seized an opportunity. Somebody smarter than I am ought to look at where the indies are and where the Borders were and I’d bet they’ll see a correlation. If they could also overlay the closed Barnes & Noble stores and the ones that have had their book inventory drastically reduced, they’d likely find more examples of substitution. Independent bookstores are substituting for the remaining portion of the demand that used to be supplied from the big store chains.

There is likely also one other factor at play — not a new one — behind the recent increase in the number of independents. To be consistent, let’s label this one “compromise”. All these independent bookstores are started and run by entrepreneurs who, most likely, had a career doing something else before they started their bookstore. I’m going to guess, without supporting data, that many of those bookstore owners could be making more money doing something else. But the psychic rewards of owning and running a bookstore, including the attraction of managing the first 3 “c”s , are sufficient to attract capable people to compromise by owning and running one rather than spending their time doing something where they might make more money.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

Mike certainly has more insider knowledge about all facets of Big Publishing and the traditional bookstore experience than PG does, but regular visitors to TPV will remember that PG has often harped on the overlooked effects arising from the disappearance of Borders, the second-largest bookstore chain in the US when it suddenly collapsed and disappeared into the bankruptcy court.

Literally overnight (it’s not unusual in bankruptcies likely to result in liquidation instead of a plan to continue the business entity’s operations after rearranging a variety of debts and blasting others into tiny pieces for a business to close all its doors at once) a huge amount of traditional publishing’s retail distribution network disappeared. Not only were publishers stuck with unpaid bills for unsold physical books, but large orders for future releases went up in smoke.

Some of Borders’ customers went to Barnes & Noble if there was one nearby, others tried Amazon and liked it and a few went to local independent bookstores (if there were any of those in the vicinity). Of those who went to indies, some liked the experience and continued as patrons but a lot missed the large selection of books on offer at the dead and departed Borders or were less than entranced by a down-market feel of their local independent and ended up going to Amazon or perhaps just stopped buying quite so many books.

The disappearance of Borders certainly helped Barnes & Noble postpone its decline for several years and removed competitive pressure to change how it did business on the meatspace side of things.

PG suspects the demise of Borders and the business benefits that accrued to Barnes & Noble may also have caused BN to feel less pressure to accelerate into ebooks (the first Nook was introduced in late 2009) than it would have felt if its largest competitor in the physical bookstore space had still been around.

At Casa PG, the closest Borders was about five minutes away and the closest Barnes & Noble was and is about 15 minutes away.

For whatever reason, when Borders died, about 95% of the book shopping at Casa PG almost immediately went online and, at the present time, the only occasions for visits to Barnes & Noble are when young offspring (who like books as objects) are in town. PG typically spends his time during such offspring-powered visits looking at non-fiction sections of interest to him and being disappointed at the small number of interesting books which are stocked.

Margin call

From The Bookseller:

Seven years ago, The Bookseller published an open letter from Sam Husain, then chief executive of Foyles, exhorting publishers to support bookshops with better terms. He wanted an average discount closer to 60%, an improvement of 20 percentage points on what he saw was prevalent at the time. He argued that despite lower volumes on some titles, bookshops needed to be rewarded for the value they put into the market, including visibility, knowledge and author events.

Last week Blackwell’s made a similar intervention in a private letter to suppliers, requesting a 7% promotional rebate, to be applied on all invoices after 7th February—equivalent, it seems, to increasing the discount it receives on the published r.r.p. by a modest amount.

. . . .

In terms of strategies, it’s hard not to think Foyles did it better: an open discussion about the future of high street bookselling made sense, a blanket demand for a back-hander looks more gauche. It was no surprise that by the time The Bookseller saw the letter, its contents were already part of a lively discussion on Twitter. 

There was also confusion over the demands: publishers have long been prepared to give a bit extra in return for additional visibility, but Blackwell’s offers no such assurances, stating that the extra discount would support its drive towards profit and growing the market. The letter, too, stipulates that the rebate is for 2020, but does not say what will be different in 2021—either Blackwell’s needs the money now for a particular reason, or it will need it forever. Publishers expect the latter.None of this means Blackwell’s is wrong to make the demand, or amiss in setting out the costs and virtues of running bookshops staffed with savvy booksellers. Missteps are forgivable when the argument is sound. And it is. Blackwell’s has grown sales by £15m in three years, but its overheads continue to rise too. The same is not true for all publishers: although they screw their faces up at the accusation, many are more profitable than once they were, and it is not unimaginable that they could use some of what is the digital bounty to invest in bookshops. Academic publishers may feel less secure, but their discounts—far lower than those offered by trade publishers—were established in a bygone era when textbook prices were high, and student need was reliable. Wherever you sit, Blackwell’s is right to argue for an adjustment. 

There is a wider discussion to be had, too. Long forgotten in Husain’s missive was a call to use consignment—whereby booksellers only pay for the stock once it is sold—a suggestion perhaps too radical at the time. But the “returns” bit of the current model is wasteful, bad for profit and bad for the environment. Any discussion on terms must include a review of this model. 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

UK Booksellers Association Cites Third Year of Gains in Stores

From Publishing Perspectives:

In an announcement today (January 10) from their offices in London’s Bell Yard, the Booksellers Association reports a third year of gains in the number of sales outlets it counts among independent bookstores in Ireland and the UK.

The association’s managing director, Meryl Halls, says, in a prepared statement, “It’s very heartening to see the number of independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland grow for a third year. This is a testament to the creativity, passion, and hard work of our booksellers, who continue to excel in the face of challenging circumstances, particularly those wider high street challenges which so often see bookshops outperforming their high street peers.”

The 2019 performance, Halls says, “is enhanced by the news of Waterstones store openings during 2019 and bolsters the bookselling community across the board.”

As her comment about Waterstones indicate, the association’s membership isn’t limited to independents. It includes chain and “nontraditional” stores—the latter term normally referring to food stores and other outlets not led by a book-related inventory.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Indie booksellers create community to survive the age of Amazon

From MPR News:

The seeds for the Zenith Bookstore, which opened in Duluth 2 1/2 years ago, were sown on the streets of Manhattan.

“We used to love walking the streets and visiting bookstores — we’re both big readers,” said Bob Dobrow, who together with his wife, Angel, owns the cozy bookstore on the city’s Central Avenue.

“We were young and in love and full of energy, and we would walk for hours,” recalled Angel Dobrow.

The Dobrows recall casually musing to one another, “Wouldn’t it be fun one day to open a bookstore?”

But they got married and had kids. Bob became a math professor at Carleton College and they moved to Northfield, Minn. When he retired a few years ago, they were packing up boxes and boxes of books, and that idea popped into their heads again.

“It was literally like a bolt of lightning,” Bob Dobrow said.

Never mind that they had never owned any kind of business before, or that people had been predicting the death of small bookstores since Barnes & Noble, Amazon and e-books.

But they moved north to Duluth, depleted their savings to remodel an old liquor store and opened for business on a summer day in 2017.

. . . .

Sales have grown about 60 percent since that first year, he said. The Dobrows attribute that in part to a loyal customer base that is willing to spend a little more on a book to support a local business.

“One of my great fears was that bookstores would go away, so I feel almost a moral obligation to be in bookstores,” said Chris Johnson, an education professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth who stopped by last week to pick up some books for his college-age kids.

“It’s probably not the norm, but I think it’s important to book lovers that such places exist,” he added.

Since bottoming out in 2009, the number of independent booksellers nationwide has grown by about 35 percent. There are now more than 1,900 independent booksellers across the country, who together operate more than 2,500 stores.

. . . .

First, there’s the Buy Local movement, which he said indie bookstores helped create.

“Booksellers are deeply embedded in helping to define this notion of why the consumer should shop local,” he explained.

Then there’s what Raffaelli calls “curation.”

“If you see a great bookseller at his or her craft, you’ll see them ask questions like, ‘What are the last five books that you read?’ And then they’ll steer a reader into a genre potentially that is outside [what they’d normally read],” he said. “But they say, ‘This is your next great book.’”

That expertise and experience enables booksellers to compete against the algorithms Amazon uses to recommend books, he said.

. . . .

And then there’s this: Many bookstores have made themselves much more than just booksellers. They’re also community gathering places.

. . . .

“It’s a business with razor-thin profits,” said Dan Cullen, senior strategy officer with the American Booksellers Association. “I don’t want to be a Pollyanna because on the one hand, there’s been solid success. But on the other hand, it’s a challenging road ahead of them as well.”

He said many bookstores face escalating rents and struggle to pay living wages and benefits to their employees.

Link to the rest at MPR News and thanks to Nate for the tip.

PG notes that, if you’ve ever been in Duluth in the winter as he has, you’ll understand why people would be attracted to any place that’s warm.

That said, PG is pleased that The Dobrows have made their bookstore work and hope they can continue to do so.

Speaking of winter, PG just checked and the average low temperature in Duluth in January is 4 degrees Fahrenheit and the city receives about 70 inches of snow per year. Since it is located on the shores of Lake Superior, bracing winds are also a feature of Duluth winters.

One additional feature of Minnesota winters that will not be familiar to most Floridians is that virtually every car and truck you see has an electric cord hanging out of the grill. The cord leads to an engine block heater which is plugged in every night to make sure various liquids in the engine don’t freeze (radiators) or transform into a thick viscous mess (oil) overnight.

OTOH, PG understands that these weather conditions don’t sound very impressive to TPV regulars who live in Canada.

We Need Better Wages

From Publishing Perspectives:

On Thursday (December 12) in the United States, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced that some 90 workers of five stores in New York City have voted to become union members. Three of the retail sites are bookstores, two are stationery shops.

The McNally Jackson Independent Booksellers stores are located in Manhattan on Prince Street and Fulton Street, and in Brooklyn on North 4th Street, and the company is effectively a small and independent group of chain stores. The company also has two stationery stores called Goods for the Study in Manhattan, one on Mulberry Street, and one on West 8th Street.

. . . .

A list of workplace issues provided by the union in its media messaging includes the following, apparently composed by the workers:

  • “We deserve respect at work: Workers should not be subject to verbal abuse from owners or managers in any workplace.
  • “We want a safe work environment free from harassment with strong policies in place to protect us: In the past, workers have faced harassment and have found a lack of a voice for a way to address these incidents. We need clearer guidelines and policies to address these serious issues.
  • “We need to be properly compensated for our input and dedication to McNally Jackson: We need better wages. The Tipped Minimum Wage is not enough for barista workers and fluctuating take-home pay leads to financial stress. Workers sometimes have their pay cut if moved into a different position with no notice. We should be paid in a timely manner. We should be paid overtime pay for overtime work as per New York State Law.
  • “We need better structures in our workplace: Too often things are done informally, and roles are not always clearly defined. Clearer guidelines about things like how we access our benefits, transfer between stores, etc. are needed.
  • “Favoritism is a problem at our workplace: We need more defined positions at work. There should be standard pay scales for certain positions at our store.”

The union, in its announcement, has included a comment from McNally Jackson workers Kathryn Harper, who works in the Brooklyn bookstore. Harper is quoted, saying, “I’m proud to say I’m now part of the RWDSU. Workers across all five stores face issues of harassment at work, favoritism, and lack of dignity and respect.

“By coming together, we are stronger, and I am confident we can shape our workplace into a place we all want to come to work each day. It’s about time McNally Jackson workers had a real seat at the table with the company and we’re ready to get to work on our first contract,”

. . . .

In a Tuesday report (December 10) at Patch, Sydney Pereira writes that the McNally Jackson workers, in voting for union membership, “join a slew of other independent bookstores that have also organized, such as New York City’s iconic Strand Bookstore, Portland’s Powell’s Books and Austin’s Book People, according to the Department for Professional Employees. Nearby McNally Jackson’s headquarters, museum workers at the Tenement Museum and the New Museum voted to unionize this year.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Disrespect, harassment, favoritism – PG wonders what the store’s customers think about this.

Gartner’s Predictions For Retailers Show More Change Ahead

From WHICH-50:

Customers are demanding greater levels of contextualisation of products and services. Retail CIOs can leverage intelligence to capture deeper insights, anticipate customer needs and proactively deliver across every touchpoint. Retailers must reinforce their store’s position as an integral part of delivering unified commerce. Gartner’s recent research Predicts 2020: Consumers Determine Retail Success Well Before the Sale expands on the five predictions from our Gartner team on the future of retail.

. . . .

The retail industry continues to transform through a period of unprecedented changes, with customer experience fast becoming the new currency. The digital disruption caused by new technologies and a shift in customer expectations continues to challenge traditional retail models.

. . . .

Robots

Tight labor markets and disruptive technologies have caused retailers to investigate new human-machine hybrid operational models. These models are built on the foundation of AI and automation technologies to assist human workers in streamlining and optimising efficiency and accuracy in tasks such as warehouse picking, inventory management and customer services to boost productivity.

Inventory

The level of investment for digital transformation efforts continues to rise, forcing retailers to find alternate sources of funding beyond cost optimisation efforts. Inventory reduction provides a clear opportunity for funding if “dead” inventory can be reduced. This will require a delicate balance of inventory management, particularly in the store, as buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) remains a popular choice for consumers. Many retailers are now leveraging their existing store estate as local fulfillment hubs to mitigate the rising costs of last-mile delivery. Furthermore, retailers now have the challenge of predicting demand and aligning inventory at a localized level to support customer expectations for same-day in-store pickup or same-day delivery option. Retailers must also further investigate new models to profitably deliver against the growing needs of online shoppers and make their networks of stores less of a financial constraint.

Digital Workplace

This will require a focus on associate training and development, including upskilling in-store associates to perform a wider variety of specialised tasks. At the same time, retailers continue to have challenges in retaining skilled and productive staff, as well as a continuing increase in employee turnover. To mitigate labor constraints, retailers can collaborate to enable a shared workforce.

Alternate labor models are part of the “future of work,” which will include more freelance, part-time and limited-term employment. This is the expectation of the millennial and Gen Z cohort as they become the mainstay of both consumer and labor markets.

. . . .

Artificial Intelligence

Ever-changing consumer expectations and the addition of new business models mean retailers must operate more efficiently, preemptively and at scale. Through the application of AI across a retailer’s ecosystem, retailers are applying data analytics into every touchpoint of their business. Including sales predictions, consumer personalisation, store optimisation and product recommendations.

Link to the rest at WHICH-50

As many perceptive visitors to TPV will have already concluded, PG posted this item with Barnes & Noble in mind.

In 2018, Barnes & Noble reported revenues of $3.7 billion for the full year. It presently reports that it has 627 retail bookstores, including stores in all 50 states in the US.

Barnes & Noble is by far the largest operator of physical bookstores in the United States.

The second-largest retail bookstore in the US is Books-A-Million: 260 retail book stores in 32 states with an estimated annual revenue of $472 million.

PG Notes on Books-A-Million:

  1. Books-A-Million went public in 1992 at an initial price of $3.00 and its share price reached a high of $39 per share in 1998. In December, 2015, the stock’s final closing price on a public market was $2.64 per share. During 33 years as a public company, the company had declined in value.
  2. At that time, all shares of Books-A-Million were acquired by its chairman and it became a privately-owned company once again.
  3. In 2014, Books-A-Million was identified by 24/7 Wall Street as America’s worst company to work for, citing low satisfaction among employees due to “high stress and low pay… low chance of promotion, [and] hours are based on magazine and discount card sales.”
  4. Doing a bit of math – always a dangerous thing – PG determined that it would take almost 8 booksellers the size of Books-A-Million to equal the annual sales of Barnes & Noble.

The third-largest retail bookstore in the US is Half Price Books: 127 stores in 18 states with an estimated annual revenue of “about” $230 million. (Some third-party sources say sales are lower – $208 million is one estimate.)

PG Notes on Half Price Books:

  1. 45 of the company’s 127 stores are located in the state of Texas.
  2. Many (All?) of the stores also sell used books.
  3. Per PG’s still-impaired math, it would take about 16 booksellers the size of Half Price Books to equal the annual sales of Barnes & Noble.

PG’s bottom lines from this mish-mash of facts and statistics:

  1. Barnes & Noble’s new CEO, James Daunt, doesn’t strike PG as the kind of guy who will embrace and expand the BN online bookstore. He seems to be a B&M sort of retail guy who only grudgingly tolerates ecommerce.
  2. Based on what PG has read about Mr. Daunt, he also doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy who will, per the OP, develop “human-machine hybrid operational models,”  position BN’s retail stores “as an integral part of delivering unified commerce” or “investigate new models to profitably deliver against the growing needs of online shoppers.”
  3. In contrast to PG’s impression of Mr. Daunt, PG believes Jeff Bezos would hire the Borg to staff Amazon warehouses if only to silence major media bleating about the poor oppressed and exploited Amazon warehouse employees who really need to unionize, etc., etc., etc.
  4. As far as either artificial intelligence or the old-fashioned kind of intelligence that resides between an employee’s ears, Amazon is already so far ahead of anyone else with respect to selling its customers exactly what they want at a great price at the precise time they want it that no traditional retailer of fungible products like books has much of a chance.
  5. Are serious readers and book-purchasers really pining for a better retail bookstore so they don’t have to go to Amazon to buy a book right away?
  6. In an era where everybody seems to be pulling a device out of their pocket to look at a screen, are ebooks really going to give way to dead-tree products sold in physical bookstores?
  7. If Barnes & Noble continues to sink into the commercial sunset, closing stores to lower costs, downsizing, trimming, cutting, etc., etc., what’s the future of Big Publishing?
  8. Does “Only an established publisher with a good reputation can get your book into the bookstore” carry much weight when that bookstore is called Half Price Books? What about, “We can only publish one book per year for any author other than James Patterson?” or, “We don’t accept manuscripts other than those presented to us by a literary agent?”

 

Should Barnes & Noble rethink its supply chain?

From Mike Shatzkin:

About 25 years ago, Ingram was benefiting from a big buildout of America’s bookstore network. Borders and Barnes & Noble were both opening new stores — big stores — at a rapid rate. Ingram hit a mother lode delivering “store opening assortments” and then, at least in some cases, doing the stock replenishment for the first 90 days.

The stock for the store opening cost the retailer more that way because Ingram couldn’t offer the discounts that publishers would give the stores for direct orders. But getting the opening stock delivered by store section, ready for shelving, and then covering the entire breadth of inventory for reorders across publishers that would also arrive consolidated rather than piecemeal, was worth a couple of points of margin.

Around this same time — 25 years ago — Jeff Bezos was using Ingram’s superior service to build Amazon.com in an industrial building in Seattle, in the same-day service zone for Ingram’s Roseburg, Oregon, warehouse.

Consolidation was the order of the day. Borders and Barnes & Noble were building out store networks that clearly threatened smaller chains and independents. (They would all also be hurt by Amazon, but that would take a few years to become obvious.) Publishers were also consolidating. (Random House and Bantam Doubleday Dell were the big merger of the late 1990s.) All of this threatened Ingram’s basic business model, which was built on being an efficiency-creator between many publishers selling to many bookstore customers.

But the efficiency of centralized supply was also clearly demonstrated to the chains, so B&N saw value in acquiring Ingram to own their own supply chain, presumably opening up the possibility of buying from publishers at the higher discounts normally afforded to wholesalers. It took two years for the deal to fall through because of federal government concern about “monopoly”. That meant Ingram had to start rethinking the future of their company.

And it meant Barnes & Noble would build its own warehouse network to provide more efficient resupply to its own stores that would give them a competitive advantage over Borders, their primary competitor. Borders, of course, was thinking along similar lines.

. . . .

And now things have changed again. B&N’s viability is threatened by the movement of book sales from physical retail to online retail. New ownership is now challenged to find new paths to commercial viability. The biggest opportunity may be a return to the past, once again turning over the supply chain to Ingram.

As sales of books in the retail channel decline, as they have and will continue to, the per-unit cost of maintaining a proprietary supply infrastructure just keeps rising.

. . . .

On top of that, the “job” of the resupply infrastructure for a retail chain has become much more challenging. When B&N was building out its capabilities at the turn of this century, the number of possible titles was probably not even a million and many of their stores carried over 100,000. Now there well over 10 million titles available through Ingram’s print-on-demand database plus nearly a million more in warehouse stock (which includes most of what is new and sells the fastest), and the retail stores carry a third or less than they did back then. The more that ratio shifts, as what each store carries is a smaller and smaller fraction of the possible universe, the more expensive it is to maintain your own supply chain.

. . . .

James Daunt, the new head of B&N, had no such option when he was rebuilding Waterstones, the UK chain he previously managed. There is no wholesaling operation in the UK with comparable ability to supply the breadth of titles Ingram does. But one imagines that Daunt sees every day what it is costing him to keep operating his distribution centers. One also imagines he also feels a need to free up capital on a daily basis.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

PG suggests that Mike’s post highlights just one of Barnes & Noble’s many problems.

The continued growth of Amazon and other online retailers (Walmart has been spending a lot of money on its online operations for several years and may have finally figured it out) is a huge indication that US consumers are perfectly happy with buying a lot of things online.

Large and small grocery chains have started services that allow online shopping with the bags of bananas, Doritos and Coke delivered to their car trunk or home. If there was ever a commodity that a great many observers thought would never go online, it was produce sales where shoppers have traditionally eyed and squeezed the fresh fruits and veggies before they selected the perfect cucumber.

Of course, each copy of a book is the same (down to the electron level for ebooks) and online information and opinions about various books on offer is enormous. Plus text messages and email make it effortless for Bev to share her book raves and rants to her friends who like to read the same sort of things she does.

PG contends that fewer and fewer feel they will understand any more about whether a book is right for them by leafing through a hardcover at a physical bookstore. They can look inside on Amazon, find out all far more about whether they’re likely to enjoy it online than they’ll ever get from an underpaid Barnes & Noble clerk (if they can find one when they need one).

Again, there is so much more detailed and reliable information about a new book online than in the bookstore, what does anyone really learn from picking it up and looking at the back cover?

In past decades, PG would sometimes visit a bookstore to kill some time in a pleasant manner. The electronic devices in his pocket or on his desk provide a much better time-killing service than any bookstore he has ever visited.

Barnes & Noble’s ‘Crucifyingly Boring’ Stores

From Publishers Weekly:

James Daunt has said that the vast 629-store Barnes & Noble chain he’s now overseeing in the United States must rip out what’s boring—both in stores and online—and find its character if it’s to succeed.

. . . .

Daunt lists three elements of successful bookselling, and personality comes first. Second is also critically important, he said, the presence of an aggressively curated inventory, responsive to each store’s consumer base. And third is engaged and capable staffers, the employees many people in publishing like to believe are in each bookshop, enthusiastic and adept at helping a customer find what she or he is looking for.

. . . .

There are those here in London who worry that Waterstones, having gained traction, could see slippage if too much of Daunt’s energy goes to Barnes & Noble. And some in the States worry that his experience, however reassuring in the British market, may not be replicable in the sprawling, exhausted network of Barnes & Noble stores, a system three times the size of Waterstones—which has 283 stores—and set in the less cohesive market and reading culture of the States.

The biggest difference in bookselling in the States and in the UK, Daunt told a questioner in the audience, is that there are far fewer bookstores. And the profession of bookselling in America has taken a considerable hit over the years, he said.

“Unfortunately, Barnes & Noble degraded the career of a bookseller,” as he put it, and he sees part of his mission to be re-establishing the importance of booksellers in the American stores and giving them the authority of local curation, something he’s known for doing at Waterstones.

. . . .

Not mentioned in the morning session here at London’s 155 Bishopgate conference center was the lawsuit filed in the States against Barnes & Noble five days ago (November 20)  by former Barnes & Noble employee Barbara Tavres, 59, in the US District Court in Northern California, seeking class action status and alleging age discrimination.

Tavres was told she’d be dismissed in September, and the court filing clearly looks to connect her experience to an idea that Daunt’s plan includes youthening the chain’s workforce.

From the filing: “In its effort to avoid growing ‘stale’ and to foster its ‘shiny and new’ public image, Barnes & Noble determined that these older workers no longer looked the part. To accomplish this goal, Barnes & Noble engaged in a campaign of age discrimination. It terminated its employees age 40 and older and replaced them with a younger workforce. And in doing so, Barnes & Noble violated these workers’ rights to be free from age discrimination in

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

So a “youthening” of Barnes & Noble will fix everything (undoubtedly at minimum wage).

PG can hardly wait to see what that looks like.