Is Barnes & Noble’s updated buying policy good or bad for book discovery?
Barnes & Noble’s CEO James Daunt has defended a new buying policy that some book industry insiders charge only leads to the chain stocking new releases of hardcovers from best-selling authors.
Mr. Daunt’s comments came in response to outrage expressed by numerous authors and publishing houses over the last week on social media.
Particularly affected by the new policy is middle-grade fiction and to a lesser extent young adult and adult fiction titles that often don’t land on best-seller lists. In-store browsing of hardcovers is seen by many as critical to establishing new authors.
Since joining as CEO in 2019, Mr. Daunt has helped revitalize B&N in part by empowering store managers to determine where the books are placed and order quantities to better align assortments with local tastes. The chain has also eliminated co-op title placement practices because unpopular titles were receiving prominent placement and driving excessive return rates.
Asked about the new buying stance, Mr. Daunt said up to 80 percent of middle-grade hardcovers bought by B&N have been routinely returned unsold to publishers, and the return rates for adult fiction were only slightly lower.
He told Publishers Weekly, “B&N for many years abrogated this responsibility, filling its stores with anything and everything and sending back what did not sell.”
The new titles are being replaced by popular trade paperbacks. B&N has been encouraging the release of certain titles to reach younger audiences via paperbacks sooner or even with the first release. Mr. Daunt told Publishers Marketplace, “At the lower price point, and in a format friendlier to children themselves, some titles which will struggle to sell in more than very small quantities in hardcover will be better served if published in paperback.”
The reduction in slow-selling hardcover stock promises to leave more shelf space for newer authors who could break out, according to Mr. Daunt, with the move to stock fewer but more in-demand titles driving overall book sales.
The changes come as hardcover sales have slowed after reading took off during the pandemic lockdowns. Some also see the BookTok trend encouraging managers to showcase related older titles in stores.
Many industry insiders still question whether readers can discover new and diverse voices without the hardcover launches that often benefit from amplified marketing.
- Barnes & Noble Stocking Policy Sparks Controversy Online – Publishers Marketplace
- Daunt Addresses Furor over Middle Grade Fiction Buying Policy – Publishers Weekly
- What is Going On With Barnes & Noble? – Book Riot
- Barnes & Noble Strategy Shift Already Proving Disastrous For Marginalized Authors – The Mary Sue
- Has Barnes & Noble turned the page? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of the moves by Barnes & Noble to focus on best-selling hardcovers and otherwise focus on paperback sales? How important is the merchandising of hardcovers to the discovery of new authors?