Can an indie bookseller save Barnes & Noble?
July 25, 2019 12:58 PM   Subscribe

 
Good luck.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:11 PM on July 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


This sounds like a You’ve Got Mail remake waiting to happen.
posted by sallybrown at 1:23 PM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


Big book stores didn't have to die; they gave up on trying to figure out who their actual customers were. Borders' original plan was, "find towns with a college and no bookstore; open bookstore." This is a good plan. When they switched to, "let's prove we can out-perform the existing bookstore by setting up across the street," they started to fail.

The Nook failed because (1) B&N had no idea how ebooks worked; (2) it failed to support the ones people wanted to buy, as opposed to the ones corporate wanted to sell; (3) they had some terrible customer service choices that convinced people to never recommend them. (These included, "no refunds, even if we provided you the wrong ebook.") Killing off Fictionwise guaranteed that longtime ebook fans hated them and having a device that combined e-ink's limited display options with a color screen that eats batteries was the worst of both worlds.

It wouldn't be easy to revive B&N stores, but it's definitely possible. Daunt's approach looks like the right one: make every store unique; cater to local tastes; encourage browsing; customize recommendations. Focus on finding customers who love books and getting them the books they want, not on persuading non-readers to buy non-books from your bookstore.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:36 PM on July 25, 2019 [22 favorites]


Be careful what you wish for. The article talks about how Waterstones has been trying to put non-chain indie stores out of business, including in my home town of Edinburgh, along with their awful refusal to pay their staff a living wage.
posted by adrianhon at 1:44 PM on July 25, 2019 [6 favorites]


As soon as I read this:

Critics have also come after Waterstones for failing to mimic Daunt Books in one important respect: pay. While the workers at Daunt’s independent shops are salaried, Waterstones employees and their supporters recently petitioned for the chain to instate a minimum wage of £9 per hour and £10.55 per hour in London, in keeping with the recommendations of the UK’s Living Wage Foundation.

Daunt told The Bookseller that he agrees the wage for entry-level employees is inadequate, and said he’s “very sympathetic to the notion that booksellers should be paid better.” But, he said, “there is an equation to be had to what is a sustainable level of profit for the business and whether it’s wise to inflate the cost at the base rate at the moment.”


I stopped giving a fuck what this guy had to say.
posted by lyssabee at 1:51 PM on July 25, 2019 [25 favorites]


They’ve got a pretty daunting task ahead of them, that’s for sure.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:54 PM on July 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


Be careful what you wish for. The article talks about how Waterstones has been trying to put non-chain indie stores out of business, including in my home town of Edinburgh, along with their awful refusal to pay their staff a living wage.

Isn't that pretty much how Barnes & Noble has been doing business since the early 1990s? B&N is not exactly the good guy in the story of American bookselling.
posted by Mothlight at 2:23 PM on July 25, 2019 [10 favorites]


James Daunt is as good a hero as any, with conflicting morals but ultimately well-intentioned.

His Daunt stores are all fabulous, especially Marylebone High Street, and Waterstones is once again a good place to spend time and full of interesting books. Not quite as good as the LRB shop but different.
posted by bookbook at 2:30 PM on July 25, 2019


This article gave me a bit of hope, outside of two big things: the aforementioned pay problem, and this:

A Barnes & Noble revival could also benefit the stores’ surrounding communities. Lively public spaces with the capacity to host readings, book clubs, children’s story hours, and larger events are a boon to both suburbia and cities.

Those places? Should be libraries. B&N is not a public space. Just as Apple wanted to make its stores places to hang out and pretend they were public spaces, this is a store when it comes down to it. The more we have libraries that feel more like bookstores, in my opinion, the better we are. (Hilariously my now 8-year-old comment from when Borders went under still holds.)
posted by hijinx at 2:55 PM on July 25, 2019 [20 favorites]


(Acknowledging on preview that a world in which vibrant libraries + community-focused indie bookstores co-exist and overlap is something I'm good with, btw.)
posted by hijinx at 2:57 PM on July 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


which has six locations in well-heeled neighborhoods in London

Hmm. I don’t think this is an accident.

One of the reasons self-publishing of ebooks took off, besides many writers realizing they we’re getting screwed by their publishing deals and opting the fuck out of that nonsense, is price.

People read more when they can afford more books. They buy more books when they can afford more books. It’s not rocket science. But publishers have insisted on historically high price points for paperbacks and hardcovers for years, and they’ve insisted on pumping up the price of ebooks too. To the point of price fixing. There was a whole lawsuit and everything.

I don’t think this is gonna be bookstores for the proletariat.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:14 PM on July 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


The core of Daunt’s bookselling strategy relied upon investing in, and trusting, his staff. “The key to good staff is to keep them long-term; to build their careers; to teach them the trade,” Daunt told Jen Campbell for her 2014 book The Bookshop Book. “I think that the intelligent, proactive people who make good booksellers also make good bookshops.”

This seems important and unusual. I remember a twitter thread going around awhile back when B&N did a big lay-off and somebody got fired who was like "I was working there for 15 years, everyone in the town knew me, why are you firing everyone who knows how to run your business, you just fired everyone who knows how to stock a new shipment" or something like that. It seemed absurd at the time and I guess it was exactly as crazy and stupid as it sounded like.

This whole idea of a hedge fund actually caring enough to hire someone to run the business instead of loading it with debt and shutting it down like Toys R Us seems, positive. It's nice when our overlords want to see something survive because that means maybe we can keep surviving.
posted by bleep at 4:19 PM on July 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


Well...Paul Singer, principal of Elliott, is about the worst of the worst, so I wouldn't have anyone get up their hopes too high, unless reviving B&N is a vanity project to make him feel cultured (unlikely, but not impossible).
posted by praemunire at 7:11 PM on July 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


Daunt told The Bookseller that he agrees the wage for entry-level employees is inadequate, and said he’s “very sympathetic to the notion that booksellers should be paid better.” But, he said, “there is an equation to be had to what is a sustainable level of profit for the business and whether it’s wise to inflate the cost at the base rate at the moment.”

Yup, he sounds like the aw-shucks-jolly-good-indie type that's going to be great for all the B&N employees who'll work for pennies.
posted by xingcat at 7:20 AM on July 26, 2019


I remember one of my beloved childhood bookstores, Kay's Bookmark. It went under shortly after a gargantuan Barnes & Noble opened up practically next door.

When that sad, soulless Barnes & Noble died an unceremonious death years later, it was replaced by the first physical Amazon bookstore.
posted by sugar and confetti at 7:45 AM on July 26, 2019


The closest B & N is a mega store on a mega road (stroad?) with every other big box. It is torture to get there and I can't imagine going just to hang out at a bookstore. The last time I was there it seemed to be selling mostly coffee, electronics and gifts like stationery. I don't think anyone can save it and I don't care because there's an indie in the other direction, also in a shopping center but oh well, that can order anything I want.
posted by Botanizer at 8:10 AM on July 26, 2019


I've loathed visiting Barnes and Nobles for years now.
They have far, far too much space devoted to non-book items.
The Nook is generally bad, and trying to Apple Store its presentation doesn't help.

I hope Daunt can improve quality. The bits about low wages and, as schadenfrau noted, appealing to richer people, give me pause.
posted by doctornemo at 11:30 AM on July 26, 2019


"Someone who loves Tana French mystery novels is more likely to appreciate Ruth Rendell than the newest Thomas Pynchon."


posted by doctornemo at 11:30 AM on July 26, 2019


Yeah I tripped over that line too. Basically an insult to fans of both French and Rendell, right?
posted by Mothlight at 12:51 PM on July 26, 2019


How so?

If all you know about someone is that they like mystery novels, is it not more likely that they will like another mystery novel rather than litfic?
posted by Naberius at 2:15 PM on July 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


The Barnes & Noble in my neighborhood closed at the start of this year. Now there is only one book store left in all of West Seattle – a fast-growing urban area that is home to almost 100,000 people. (There were at least three when I moved to this neighborhood a decade ago.) The one surviving shop is a nice, small, independent used book store, and our public libraries are also great, but I will miss having a convenient place right near my home to shop for holiday and birthday presents.

Now it's just one of several vacant storefronts in the local outdoor mall. It took us so little time to go from "the mall is killing Main Street" to "Amazon is killing the mall."
posted by mbrubeck at 3:07 PM on July 26, 2019


Weird - I think some of my comment about French and Pynchon got eaten in posting.
I tried to say "raises hand as a happy reader of all three."

(Did I accidentally delete a sentence with markup?)
posted by doctornemo at 4:27 PM on July 26, 2019


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