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& 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?


  1. What? No chairs to sit in while browsing a book? I find that a real shame. I haven't been to a Barnes and Noble in ages- the one near us closed last year- but I think I would find it unrecognizable, from this description.

    Also, don't they realize that after a person buys one Nook, they don't need another? Whereas book-lovers will always come back for more books to read, so they ought to shelve more books!

  2. I understand what this guy's saying but I also understand where B&N is coming from. There are less books in the store because people are buying less. B&N can't afford to stock it as fully as they did. The empty space is a result of that. So are the games and toys. They're not TRYING to sell less books. They just ARE selling less books. What they're trying to do is make it less obvious, which isn't really working.

    The chairs - if you knew what customers did in those chairs, you wouldn't want to sit in them. They been pooped and peed on. Smelly, dirty homeless people have slept in them for hours. Food and drink has been spilled all over them. It costs a lot of money to clean them and keep them nice only to have people use them to read an entire book and NOT buy a daggone thing. There are still chairs in the bookstores. Look harder. Go to the cafe. Heck, even when we did have more chairs, people had no qualms with just sitting right down on the floor (or laying completely across the aisle, for that matter).

    Anywho, the smaller book quantity isn't what B&N wanted to do. It's how they're staying in business so far. It may not make sense to you, and I understand that in some ways they're shooting themselves in the foot. But it's not really their fault. They're doing their best. May not want to admit, but a lot of people are buying a LOT less books.

    Oh, I just went to the 1st new store B&N opened in 4 yrs. Almost no CDs or DVDs. Still a very large newstand. Lots of toys and games in the kids section. There are less books, but because the store was created for less books, it doesn't look empty, whereas other stores weren't created for less books so they look empty. That said, they had a lot more books than you can find anywhere else. If bookstores can survive at all, B&N will be ok because they're the best out there. But I still don't know if any bookstore can survive against Amazon, not to mention Walmart, & Costco & Target selling cheap books too.

  3. According to one prediction I heard, B&N has maybe a couple more years before it goes under, at the rate it is killing itself. They may be putting all their eggs in the Nook basket, but they're not even doing that well. Although I own a Nook, I haven't bought a single Nook Book, and won't until they change a lot of things about their online store. I've even emailed them a couple times, explaining why I don't spend money on their e-books and detailing some of the store features that would convince me to buy stuff from them if they implemented them. It wouldn't surprise me if my suggestions were never seen by a human being. Then there's their devices, which they haven't improved enough to really be competitive.

  4. Annie,

    They are selling less books because they aren't trying as hard as they used to to make their stores a uniquely great experience for actual walk-in customers. If the chain is to survive (and I'm starting to think the worst is going to happen), they and the major publishers need to work out some kind of a new business model that will allow everyone to make a profit on the sales of real books. Publishers are as oblivious as B&N to the problem and to the best potential for a solution...working together to get through this evolutionary period.

    As for the chairs, I get it. I would settle for the old style benches, but even those have been yanked, at least around here, except for the magazine area. People are chastised for sitting on the floor...and older people would never do that anyway - they are too self-conscious and it's too hard to get back up. :-) This is precisely why I buy fewer books at B&N than at any time in the last 20 years. My back starts to hurt within 20 minutes, or so, and I've got to leave with what I have...usually, that's empty-handed.

    Don't get me started on the cafes in B&N. I don't enjoy being surrounded by a lot of giggling teens who could not care less that they are ruining the setting for everyone around them. And, the limited number of tables are often taken up precisely by those people who want to camp out and read a dozen magazines, use a text book, or group study. They are there for hours in some cases. So the cafe is not a solution to browsing problems.

    My whole point is that B&N is the only company in a position to re-create a real bookstore. If they fail to do it, publishers, authors, and readers are the ones who will suffer from that failure. Sure. Sell some toys, movies, etc. No problem. But don't do it at the expense of books. Remember who you are. E-reader sales are no longer growing much from one year to the next. The huge growth is over and done, and B&N cannot count on that segment of the business to save it.

    The way I see it, the company is fast approaching a crossroads...and that guy at the head of the company right now doesn't get it at all. That video I posted of his interview the other day says it all about his awareness.

    Believe me, I'm rooting for B&N. They are our last, best, and only hope that large bookstores will survive the decade.

  5. Your points are well taken ones, Jeane. Although, Annie's points about the state of the chairs are a little thought provoking, aren't they? :-)

  6. I totally agree, Library Girl, that they have mismanaged the Nook and its associated store. All that silly copy protection and competing formats is the biggest turnoff to buying e-books that I can think of...other than the sheer ridiculousness of some of the prices imposed on the retailers by publishers. I read 17 e-books in 2011 and was down to 10 in 2012, with none so far this year (although I have two lined up for the relatively near future that are review copies).

  7. I am horrified at the idea of someone soiling a chair in the manner Annie suggests. Certainly, if I worked there and had to clean the chairs I would want to do away with them as well.

  8. I completely agree. I miss being about to wander around B&N and curl up in a chair with a cup of coffee for an hour. Now there's only a few tables in the cafe, and it's always packed. I HATE how much games and toys there are and how the book section - both adult books and children's books - has seriously dwindled.

    I can deal with the Nook displays, but I honestly don't like the new Nooks. I have the first generation Nook and love it. It's an ereader, and that's it. Black & white, nothing fancy, few games.... I dealt with the problems of a first generation electronic early on because I loved the device and B&N, but when it dies, I will probably purchase an iPad to replace it. I'll be able to download books from B&N and Amazon - best of both worlds.

  9. Liz, your last point about switching to an iPad when it's time to replace your original Nook is precisely what is going to kill off B&N. Why would anyone want to buy a dedicated reader as long as there are competing book formats requiring exactly the right device to read any e-book you purchase? With the iPad you can download each company's software and read the e-book no matter how it is formatted or "protected."

    B&N cannot possibly win at this game, and their management people need to wake up before it's too late...but I'm not sure they will "get it" in time to save themselves. And that makes me sad.

  10. Barnes and Noble, listen up! Sam is telling you like it is!