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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why Does Barnes & Noble Hate Me?

A Book Lover Watches the B&N Brand Sink Before His Eyes
I love Barnes & Noble.  

I hate Barnes & Noble.

And I think that Barnes & Noble feels exactly the same about me.

Why else would the last major bookstore chain still standing work so hard to ruin the experience of actually visiting its physical locations?  

Looking for a newspaper, especially one not local?  Forget it...long gone.  Want to spend an hour or two browsing the store's bookshelves but find it difficult to stand for such an extended period of time?  Forget it.  All those little corners with nice chairs to rest in for a moment are a thing of the past.  Even more disconcerting is the fact that it might not take two hours these days to browse the shelves of some B&N stores because the number of physical books being shelved seems to be dropping by the month - with more space than ever before being devoted to the Nook e-reader, games, movies, CDs and DVDs, puzzles, toys, etc.  

But the biggest culprit on the list is the Nook.  One of my local B&Ns has carved out a hugely wasteful amount of empty space around its Nook display area - with a whole corner of floor space having become just an empty spot behind the artificial wall built for the display area.  That is space that could be used to shelve a few hundred more books...but that's no longer important enough to B&N strategic planners to distract from the ever mighty Nook.

Barnes & Noble management has decided to put all the company's eggs into one big Nook Basket.  They have, it seems, decided to live or die with their e-reader and, at this point, it is beginning to look like they are going to let it kill the company.  B&N was late coming to the e-book game (as was, for that matter, any company following Amazon's Kindle) and the competition from new vendors and gadgets is increasing every quarter.  Rather than growing market share in the e-reader arena, B&N will be very lucky to hold on to a percentage of the market anywhere close to what it holds today.  iPads, mini iPads, smart phones, tablets, smaller and lighter PCs, and new competition from dedicated e-readers (along with Amazon's dominance of e-book sales) makes it almost certain that Nook and e-book sales will not be the magic pill that saves Barnes & Noble from the fate suffered by Borders.

Barnes and Noble management, please listen up for a second.  You are not Amazon and you never will be.  Your best chance to build the company is to make the experience of shopping with you something that a book lover cannot find anywhere else.  Make sure that a visit to your bookstores is something the consumer enjoys and looks forward to repeating.  Sell books and Nooks, but don't go digital at the expense of those of us who want to shop for tree-books we can carry home, read, and place on our own shelves.  Give me an experience I can't get on the Internet.

Offer more in-store author tours, display more new titles from publishers of all sizes (including indies), urge your excellent on-floor staff to talk books with customers (and listen to what we want from you), push the book club concept by providing meeting space (like many of your stores did in the good old days), and bring back those chairs and benches, for a start.  

You are not going to make it by trying to compete so directly against Amazon.  You are not Amazon, and we don't need another Amazon.  Those guys can probably afford to give away Kindles (I keep expecting them to do exactly that one day) because of the way they dominate sales of e-books.  You can't afford to do that, so do something different.

Remind your loyal customers of why we used to spend so much time in your stores.  We want to love you again - but we want our love returned.  Frankly, about the only thing that I really enjoy when I visit my local B&N stores anymore is looking through the "Bargain Books."  And, even that small pleasure has been diminished greatly by one store manager's decision to cut those titles to a bare minimum (meaning that I drive farther to a B&N location that has twice as many marked down books on display).

Real book lovers are pulling for you, B&N...as are publishers who are already in enough trouble on their own.  They need your shelf space desperately.  Can't you guys get together and make this thing work?
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