Has Barnes & Noble turned the page?
Barnes & Noble’s sales have recovered as the chain orchestrates a turnaround focused on empowering store managers and capitalizes on a revival of interest in reading.
Sales were up three percent in 2021 versus pre-pandemic 2019 levels, led by a 14 percent jump in book sales, according to The New York Times.
James Daunt, CEO since August 2019, employed a similar game plan to revive Waterstones, Britain’s largest bookstore chain.
Although the chain’s stores carry similar titles, in a shift away from centralized buying, individual managers determine where the books are placed and order quantities. The focus better aligns assortments with local tastes. Mr. Daunt told Publishers Weekly last year his goal is to provide managers with tools and then “get out of the way.”
Co-op title placement practices have also been ended because unpopular titles were receiving prominent placement and driving excessive return rates.
Other priorities include further narrowing the mix to books, educational games, puzzles and workbooks; store refurbishments that include an emphasis on smaller tables and wider aisles; expanding online (only 10 percent of sales); and reducing out-of-stocks. B&N’s city stores are still underperforming due to the continuing scarcity of office workers and tourists.
B&N may still be benefiting from customers who discovered or rediscovered reading while cocooning during the pandemic. Also boosting readership is a TikTok phenomenon wherein users are posting about books using the hashtag #BookTok and Millennials becoming nostalgic about the big-box bookstores where they discovered Harry Potter and other books.
According to the Times, book publishers and most independent booksellers in a turnabout are rooting for Barnes & Noble’s viability as Amazon.com now makes up more than half the physical book sales in the U.S.
B&N is seen helping publishers stay committed to supporting physical stores. Their well-stocked larger stores with comfy chairs are seen as critical to driving discovery that many believe isn’t possible with online book buying.
“Discovery is so, so important,” Daniel Simon, founder of Seven Stories Press, an independent publisher, told the Times. “The more Amazon’s market share grows, the less discovery there is overall and the less new voices are going to be heard.”
- How Barnes & Noble Went From Villain to Hero – The New York Times
- A Bookstore Revival Channels Nostalgia for Big Box Chains – Bloomberg
- B&N Rides a Wave of Positive Trends – Publishers Weekly
- Barnes & Noble CEO says TikTok fueled an ‘explosion of reading’ among young people – Fox Business
- Book Sales, Open Streets and Science: Some Find Success in the Pandemic – The New York Times
- Barnes & Noble counts on store managers running its business better – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does Barnes & Noble seem better positioned to prosper both due to its internal restructuring changes and external trends? Are there lessons for other retailers in its decentralized approach?