How Barnes And Noble Went From Villain To Hero

People who have looked down on the megastore company for decades are now cheering its success because of rising sales and falling expenses.

How Barnes And Noble Went From Villain To Hero

Many authors, readers, and book enthusiasts have previously held negative opinions of the bookselling empire, despite its widespread presence (600 locations throughout all 50 states).

Now, most independent bookstores join the publishing business in supporting Barnes & Noble. In a world turned upside down by online sales and a much larger player like Amazon, its unique role in the book ecosystem, where it helps readers discover new titles and publishers stay invested in physical stores, makes it a crucial anchor.

How Barnes And Noble Went From Villain To Hero

If This Bookstore Chain Didn’t Exist, “The Print Business Would be in Serious Trouble,” One Person Said.

Barnes & Noble was met with significant challenges due to the pandemic. There were no readings or author signings at most of its outlets for almost two years. Customer traffic at its cafes remains extremely low.

Additionally, Omicron came in December, coinciding with the start of the holiday shopping season. Stores in the heart of cities still struggle to make a profit due to a lack of foot traffic from visitors and commuters.

Despite this, Barnes & Noble reported a 3% increase in annual sales compared to the year prior, which was before the 2019 epidemic. CEO James Daunt attributed the increase to the tried-and-true method of selling more books (book sales were up 14 percent).

Mr. Daunt remarked, “At the beginning of the year, I would never have predicted it, but it’s been tremendous.”

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Those That Oppose Me Are Actually Allies.

For a long time, the animosity between Barnes & Noble and small bookshops was so strong that even Tom Hanks could pass as a likeable bad guy. You’ve Got Mail, a film from 1998, perfectly encapsulated this sentiment.

Nora Ephron co-wrote and directed this picture about a big bookshop chain whose owner (Tom Hanks) drives out of business (Meg Ryan) a cherished independent bookseller in Manhattan. (They were cute together and eventually got married.)

In the 1990s, Barnes & Noble faced an antitrust case filed by the American Booksellers Association, which represented independent bookstores. A number of publishers were sued by the association a few years earlier on the grounds that they had charged large chains unjustly cheaper pricing.

According to Oren J. Teicher, a former CEO of the American Booksellers Association, “there was a moment where the rivalry was really unpleasant.” Barnes & Noble represented “all that was wrong with corporate book selling,” therefore they were seen as more than just the opponent.

However, Mr. Teicher Noted That Over Time, Bookstores Have Found “A Shared Opponent” in Amazon.

Barnes & Noble, which began as a single bookstore in Manhattan in 1917, has since expanded across the country and is now the industry leader by offering steep discounts on bestsellers. Once inside, customers were faced with tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of books to choose from, the most majority of which were priced at full retail.

Amazon came along and immediately began undercutting Barnes & Noble with lower prices and a greater variety of books. The Association of American Publishers reports that in 2021, traditional books accounted for 76% of publishers’ sales revenue, despite the rise of alternative formats. As for actual books, Amazon sells more than 50% of them in the US.

If You Can’t Find a Particular Book in a Store, Buying it Online is a Simple Process.

You’re looking. This is the one that clicks for you. So, you’re going to shop. What gets left behind are the fortuitous discoveries, like the paperback you happened upon while browsing the suspense aisle. Unfortunately, nobody has yet found out how to create the same kind of serendipitous discovery in the digital realm.

Consequently, bookstores are crucial not only for customers, but also for authors who aren’t household names, literary agencies, and publishers of all sizes. Although independent bookstores play a vital part in this kind of discovery, Barnes & Noble’s larger format allows them to stock more titles.

Moreover, in many areas of the country, Barnes & Noble is the only bookstore available. An independent publisher’s founder, Daniel Simon of Seven Stories Press, emphasised the significance of discovery. Increases in Amazon’s market share will lead to fewer opportunities for discovery and the suppression of fresh perspectives.

Barnes & Noble is significant for famous writers for a different reason: the store’s massive size. There are 600 locations in the network, so they can order a lot of books and sell a lot of copies, making them a crucial stop on any large book tour.

Independent New Press publisher Ellen Adler remarked, “It’s funny how the industry has changed so that they are now the good guy.” Their recovery, in my opinion, is complete. According to Kristen McLean, executive director of business development at NPD Books, which monitors the market, the chain also keeps publishers involved in nationwide physical book distribution.

In a Positive Way, That Benefits Bookstores of All Sizes.

Rakestraw Books’ manager Michael Barnard recalled that around 20 years ago, a Barnes & Noble megastore opened about five miles away. It also included a Borders bookstore and a Costco with a substantial book section—all at a time when Amazon was rising to prominence.

Rakestraw, however, not only survived, but flourished. Mr. Barnard claims that 2016 was the most successful year ever for his retail establishment. They’ve been “very competitive and hard to have,” he said.

“They’re the other significant portion of the industry that’s devoted to print and to in-person book-selling, and I do think they share some of our issues,” he added. He continued, “Having said that, I would prefer not to have one just down the road from me.”

Battery Stores Are Not the Same as Bookstores.

The board of directors of the corporation ousted the CEO for the fourth time in five years in 2018. The largest bookstore chain in the country was the subject of widespread concern that it would go bankrupt. Hedge firm Elliott Advisors paid $638 million the next summer to acquire the company and install Mr. Daunt as CEO.

Mr. Daunt, a well-respected bookseller who launched his first Daunt Books store in London in 1990, was recruited by Waterstones, Britain’s largest bookstore chain, to address a similar issue. When he took control in 2011, the company was on the verge of collapse.

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His idea was that chains should function less like chains and more like small businesses, with the ability to respond to local preferences in product selection and presentation. He was successful, and Waterstones is now making money again.

He essentially used the same strategy at the Barnes & Noble. Once upon a time, a centralised office in New York would place orders for bookstores across the country. These days, however, that office has been cut back to the point where it places only the bare minimum order for new books, leaving it up to individual bookstore managers to decide whether or not to order more copies based on their own locations’ demand.

“I get all the accolades, but essentially what I’m doing is getting out of the way and letting them run decent bookstores,” Mr. Daunt remarked. “Everything gets done on the factory floor.”