Is Barnes & Noble’s updated buying policy good or bad for book discovery?

Discussion
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/NeoBatfreak
Aug 25, 2022

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.

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?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Barnes & Noble’s CEO is doing what’s necessary to move B&N forward. Perhaps the industry needs to look at new ways to market authors and hardcover books."
"Given how precarious the business environment is for booksellers, this approach seems measured and well thought out."
"I think this is not only bad for authors, publishers, and the evolution of literature, but it’s a fatal business strategy."

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12 Comments on "Is Barnes & Noble’s updated buying policy good or bad for book discovery?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

I think management is making the right move. While some book lovers/shoppers may not appreciate the focus on best-sellers in hardcover, Barnes & Noble is right to focus on the types of books shoppers who visit a B&N store actually buy. As we all well know, book buying transformed decades ago, and while in-store merchandising may play a small role, the most important merchandising of any book is online.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I feel for authors, especially those who struggle more getting into Barnes & Noble. However B&N has a responsibility to run a profitable and successful business and it does not have a duty to stock anything and everything that publishers wish it to – especially not in stores as this takes up an enormous amount of space which is not productively used if a large proportion of books are slow sellers. On hardbacks, the publishing industry has only itself to blame. Yes, it makes more money on this format so likes the model of releasing hardbacks first, but if that’s not what the consumer wants then it needs to change. All that said, B&N has to strike a balance of stocking popular titles and being a place to discover new works and authors.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Interesting fact: my Millennial daughter is a heavy purchaser of hardcover books but, other than gifts, I haven’t bought one in forever. I do however frequently visit Barnes & Noble to look for new titles, and purchase them onsite for my B&N Nook.

I don’t know a lot about the importance of hardcovers to new authors, but I do know that it doesn’t make sense to stock product that does not sell. Our local B&N has a significant amount of tables devoted to large sized paperbacks, many of which are YA titles. It seems like consumers don’t care as much about new books in hardcover as new authors do.

Barnes & Noble’s CEO is doing what’s necessary to move B&N forward. Perhaps the industry needs to look at new ways to market authors and hardcover books.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

As an avid reader who rarely if ever chooses books by “blockbuster” authors, I hate that this move by B&N is minimizing new author discovery options. However as a marketer, I completely understand the business logic and support the effort. B&N differentiated from Amazon through their in-store experiences. They have a responsibility to their stakeholders to do everything they can to optimize the store experience and drive more people to their stores. If they believe streamlining their hardcover selections is a way to accomplish those goals, then I support them. Additionally, I (still) maintain that B&N could vastly improve engagement – and also support author discovery – by building or acquiring a content engine like Goodreads. The synergies are incredible, and the opportunities for informed and engaging cross-platform promotion and content (driven by readers!) are limitless.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

“Slow movers” have always been a problem for the book industry. I can remember visiting distribution centers that had whole sections set aside for them. I can appreciate the reduction in costs if the company limits the number of hardcover books it sells.

I think in today’s world there are lots of ways to find out about new authors. In Miami, we have the Miami Book Fair, which has speeches from both new and already well-known authors. Obviously social media is another place to find them. Word of mouth is still viable.

I just don’t think browsing is the way new authors are found anyway.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Bookstore or not, every retailer deserves to figure out their optimal merchandise mix I think although B&N would like to showcase more authors. They are kind of left without a choice, it is a smart marketing move to put best sellers up front and showcase those books to consumers. If books are constantly being returned, especially with all the supply chain issues right now I don’t blame B&N for changing their model. 

I’d like to see them work with a publisher to release both the hardcover and paperback version of a title or two to see what happens. They could test this against the traditional hardcover first approach in a few stores and see the numbers. As I understand it, the margins are basically the same for both book types. Of course, now we’re talking roughly double the shelf real estate. Not easy!

Rick Moss
Staff

All bookstores are not alike. B&N uses a mass market formula that may keep it afloat. Meanwhile, many independent bookstores do a fabulous job (ref: Powell’s in Portland; Strand in NYC) with discovery. And indies are on the rise again, probably fueled by newly resurgent reading habits brought on by the pandemic. Aspiring authors shouldn’t even think in terms of B&N. It’s a whole other league, and they don’t need to play in it.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

B&N has been a mystery to me – for decades I’ve wanted to comprehend why their stores failed to feel “bookish.” Recently, that has begun to change and their stores have started to feel like a place a book lover would want to browse, I’ll be watching this effort because it may be that B&N allowing publishers too much control to market their favorite books was behind the generally poor feel of the stores. Amazon bookstores were similarly sterile and lacked browsing interest – perhaps due to their obsession about ratings instead of interest.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
Sorry to disagree with so many of my esteemed BrainTrust colleagues but I think this is not only bad for authors, publishers, and the evolution of literature, but it’s a fatal business strategy. By concentrating on bestsellers, B&N is making it even easier for Amazon and other online booksellers to put it out of business. Would you rather buy the newest Stephen King novel for $27.99 at B&N or get that same book, possibly on the same day, and certainly no later than the next day for $13 from Amazon? The result of this strategy is to make certain authors/titles loss leaders and/or permanently low-margin items. Still not convinced? Well, look at the facts. Independent bookstores, who make their money largely through those titles B&N won’t be stocking, are the most exciting sector of book retailing today. Hard to upsell off The New York Times bestseller list, much easier to do in an independent bookstore environment. Barnes & Noble has lost its soul as a bookseller. It’s tried to become a coffee shop, a toy… Read more »
Mark Price
BrainTrust

B&N is not a social enterprise. Their job is to improve performance by better serving their customers. Note that this change is hardcover only. If B&N is returning 80 percent of their stock of certain types of titles, that is a strong indicator that those titles lack the demand to be stocked in-store in hardcover. They can still be purchased online or digitally. If the bookseller can replace those titles with new works from new authors, then the approach would seem to meet both the needs of the company and readers.

Given how precarious the business environment is for booksellers, this approach seems measured and well thought out.

Mohamed Amer, PhD
BrainTrust

There was a time when readers discovered most new authors by browsing the book store. Today, new authors and book discovery take a digital approach with less reliance on book store windows and table tops. Barnes & Noble needs to show growth and profit by offering a desirable range of books and related products. That includes new authors and titles based on data and local customer preferences. It makes little sense to stock up on inventory that won’t sell and is eventually returned. B&N’s updated buying policy exposes the inherent inefficiencies in the book publishing industry.

Roland Gossage
BrainTrust
5 months 3 days ago

There’s a fine balance between pushing newer books and authors and taking into account what consumers are looking for. Giving individual stores more control allows them to adjust inventory based on their customers’ preferences. Today’s consumers want personalized and frictionless shopping experiences, which is difficult from the macro level. It’s critical to use location-specific data to optimize product discovery in each individual store.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Barnes & Noble’s CEO is doing what’s necessary to move B&N forward. Perhaps the industry needs to look at new ways to market authors and hardcover books."
"Given how precarious the business environment is for booksellers, this approach seems measured and well thought out."
"I think this is not only bad for authors, publishers, and the evolution of literature, but it’s a fatal business strategy."

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