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How can Barnes & Noble compete in 2014 and beyond?

As we look toward 2014, the major question to be answered is the future of Barnes & Noble. If you think that the publishing world would be just fine without Barnes & Noble, you’d be wrong. When Borders closed its doors, there was a decline in overall sales of books that was not recaptured by either digital sales, online sales or physical retailers. Borders was only the fraction of the size of Barnes & Noble so you can imagine the shrinkage that would occur should Barnes & Noble disappear from the retail landscape.

In an article earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal noted that B&N’s stock value had declined nearly 70% since 2006. Conversely, Amazon’s stock is at its zenith. The problem with comparing Amazon to Barnes & Noble, however, is that Amazon isn’t merely selling books. Its selling electronics, home goods, and web services.  Vine, Instagram (before its sale to Facebook), Netflix, just to name a few, are hosted via Amazon Web Services.

But when Barnes & Noble competes head to head with Amazon it often comes up short. While nearly every other digital retailer (save Sony) matches discounts, B&N does not.  The NYTimes looked at the resurgence of Best Buy and one of the key points was Best Buy’s commitment to price matching.

Like many ideas that seem brilliant in hindsight, “the strategy is very simple,” Mr. Joly said in 2012, soon after he took the job. “We believe that price-competitiveness is table stakes. The way we want to win is around the advice, convenience, service.”

By matching the lowest price and enhancing service, he was determined to make sure that a customer who came to Best Buy as a showroom had no reason to buy anywhere else.

Price matching isn’t just for electronics retailers. At Nordstrom’s, they have a publicly stated price matching policy and more retailers are quietly accepting customer’s requests for price matching.  Barnes & Noble is not one of those companies.  Certainly Best Buy’s renewed commitment to low prices has helped the retailer regain its vigor in the marketplace, but I know that there are some who would argue that to try to compete with Amazon on price is a fool’s errand.

If B&N will not compete on price (or cannot) what can it compete on? A true luxury brand relies on exclusivity, rarity and the Veblen effect.  The Veblen effect says that a reduced price reduces the status of the product.  (There is some Veblen effect occurring for readers at the 99c price point).  A purveyor of mass marketed goods can almost by definition not be a luxury brand.

In the Best Buy article, the new CEO says that they are trying to eliminate price as an obstacle for purchasing.  This weekend at Barnes & Noble, the lines were enormous. People love buying books for other people but I also was with someone who wanted to buy a particular book for a friend and it wasn’t in stock. The exact conversation went like this.

BN: We can order it for you.

Person: It’s $16 here and $12 on Amazon. Why don’t I just order it myself?

The aforementioned conversation is what Best Buy wants to avoid.  A brick and mortar retail store that can’t compete on price or selection has to offer something else.  What else can Barnes & Noble offer? Better service? Perhaps they need to move to the Apple retail model where there is an employee every 4 square feet.  Best Buy has embraced the showroom feel, similar to Apple, where customers can touch and feel all the devices from tablets to headphones to televisions.  Barnes & Noble’s retail space was supposed to present the Nook with an advantage over Amazon but Amazon countered by sending out its Kindle devices to Target, Staples, Best Buy and other retailers. Plus Nook’s closed ecosystem which didn’t allow users to easily add movies, games, and music cratered its tablet endeavors.  B&N over estimated the eink devices popularity and has failed to launch internationally like it promised.

I don’t have many answers for B&N. I do think that they should do a better job of bringing readers in by hosting author events. One way they could do this is to partner with Lightning Source or Lulu.com to create deals with indie author signings where thousands of fans show up to buy print books from their favorite authors.   Another thing is to start aggressively price matching so that Nook users don’t feel punished by being Nook users.  If a book is not in stock, Barnes & Noble should offer to price match any online price for those who are BN members (along with free in home shipping).  Barnes & Noble should be leading in offering reader recommendations rather than leaving that to Goodreads (now owned by Amazon) or any other of the reading communities.

There are a whole host of things that B&N could do by leveraging its existing status in the community and marketplace, but I don’t see it happening. B&N feels like an old school retailer in a new world and I don’t see it innovating fast enough. Maybe new blood at the head of the company will change the course, like it has for Best Buy. I hope so. We need Barnes & Noble to expand the marketplace of books.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

58 Comments

  1. ms bookjunkie
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 04:23:33

    As an international reader, my question is “What is this Barnes & Noble you write of?” It doesn’t exist on my radar at all. #BNFAIL

    (Amazon, OTOH, is involved in all parts of my reading life. It’s there, it’s convenient, it gives me many choices, the customer service works…*shrug* *checks reader soul—yeah, Amazon owns it* *another shrug*)

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  2. Laura Hunsaker
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 04:46:34

    I have a nook and I love it. I like the device better than the kindles my mom and mother in law have. The customer service is great, the device is great, but I stopped buying nook books for the simple reason that I can’t download them to keep. I buy kobo books (with a coupon code), and I load those to my nook.

    I feel like I “own” the book, and I got said book for less. If B&N would look at doing something, anything, to at least look like they want my business, I’d be more willing to buy more books there.

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  3. Deborah Nam-Krane
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 05:39:42

    They are so out-of-sync with price matching, they can’t even match their own price from website to store. Which would be fine if they could get by on the strength of their website operations alone, but they can’t.

    Your last paragraph nails it: they don’t know how to adjust, or if they do they’re not doing it quickly enough.

    I think B&N will crawl its way through 2014, but I think they’ll close about 20% of their stores first. Crossing my fingers that some indie bookstores fill the void if that happens.

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  4. Amanda
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 06:31:50

    I have to drive two hours to get to the closest Barnes and Nobles but I always try to go to one when I get the chance. Mainly because the other bookstores that use to be in the mall are gone but I also like the feel of the stores. The ones I have been are huge and cozy all at once, kinda reminds me of a library.
    Sadly I am not sure if there is much they can do to compete. Maybe focus more on the experience the shopper gets or offer deep sales at regular intervals to get butts in the door.

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  5. Geert
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 06:53:23

    Actually with popular fiction ebooks B&N usually pricematches Amazon, the problem is they often need several (working) days to do so. Which gives people the impression Nook ebooks are much more expensive than Kindle ones.
    Nook pricematching appears to be a completely manual process, compared to Amazons automated process.
    I hope the new B&N website which will be launched April next year will improve pricematching.

    As for the international Nook rollout. Nook ebooks recently became available international for the Windows 8 app. This weeks update of the HD tablets added several foreign language dictionaries, so a further international rollout will hopefully follow soon.
    I would not surprise me if a further international rollout depends on the new website.

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  6. Geert
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 06:57:26

    @laura
    With Kobo, just as with B&N, you just buy a license to read an ebook, you do not own the ebook.
    If you want to download a backup copy of your Nook ebooks, download them from the B&N website, or use one of the Nook apps.

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  7. Jess
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 07:44:14

    Something else I wish BN would do is extend membership benefits to nook books. I had a membership and I was getting all of my print books, magazines, coffee, etc. from BN. But when I got a Nook and started wanting more ebooks, I found that the benefits didn’t extend to those. So I let my membership expire and, because I didn’t automatically go to BN first, started purchasing all of those things and ebooks from different places.

    I really want to support BN but they aren’t making it easy.

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  8. Sunny
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 08:08:19

    My bookstore chain (Chapters) is having the exact same issue — large price differences between online and in-store, and generally not in the store’s favour. Our fiction prices tend to be lower, but when people are buying books for the holidays they also go for things like cookbooks, big art books, etc — which are much less expensive online. We can’t price match and we can’t even order them for the customer at that price, they have to go home and order it, in which case they have a lot more options than when we have them in the store!

    Not being able to price-match our own online site has never been explained to anyone’s satisfaction, much like the hand-wavey “books are just more expensive in Canada” explanation. Our company is incredibly transparent with numbers so it’s surprising why they’ve never been able to give us a reason for this, and I think it will inevitably turn more customers into online shoppers, especially as Amazon Canada picks up steam (they just introduced Prime this year).

    I love working in a bookstore but phew it’s painful, especially this time of year. Not because customers are rude, but because we can’t explain why they have to pay more for having made the physical trip!

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  9. mari
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 08:24:49

    I stay out of B&N these days. There was a time you couldn’t have kept me out of one. But those days are long gone. I took the kids there the other day and ended up by buying them toys. Wanted to buy books, but I can get them cheaper elsewhere. The clerk was clueless when I asked about a particular dinosaur book for my three year old. Going to B&N is just too painful these days. Watching its slow decline is like watching an old sick dinosaur lurch around, blundering and vaguely destructive. You want to help it (maybe even tried to help it) , but its no good anymore. The only question is, how long before it dies. Not if, when.

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  10. Darlene Marshall
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 09:02:55

    I’m with a small, indie publisher, and the difficulties of trying to arrange a booksigning at my local B&N made me toss my hands in the air and stick with my few remaining indie bookstores. Borders used to work with me to arrange booksignings, as they did with all local authors. For B&N I was told I’d have to contact corporate, fill out a bunch of paper forms, and maybe they’d say yes to the local store carrying my books. It’s not worth it for me in time or energy. Now the local store is closing.

    I have a Nook, I’m thrilled BN.com sells my ebooks, but I’m not at all surprised they’re losing ground with their bricks and mortar operations. You have to be fast and agile in today’s marketplace, and their model doesn’t make it.

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  11. Laura Hunsaker
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 09:55:59

    @Geert- how do I download then from my B&N library? If I buy a kobo book, it says right there “download.” I usually download to my PC and then side load to the nook. If my kobo account ever is deleted I have the files saved on my computer.

    With nook I didn’t know I could do that.

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  12. Holly
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 10:07:20

    @Sunny I was reading this and thinking of Chapters as well! I am switching to ordering books online next year, with a few exceptions, because even though I live in a city with multiple Chapters-Indigo stores in walking distance, I can’t find what I want at stores. Their website says it’s in stock, it’s not on the shelves, the associate tells me to come back because it’s in a box waiting to be unpacked. Why would I make a second trip when I can have it delivered to my house or buy in e-book form instead? There have also been multiple instances this year where they don’t have bestselling authors’ books in-store on release date or even in the next week or two. Why would I wait for them?

    Chapters is now offering same day delivery (between 6-10 pm, I think?) and with the online discounts on books, it can be cheaper for me to pay the $14 delivery charge and the online price if I’m ordering trade/hc than it would be to go to the store in person and buy the books without the online discount. I don’t understand why they can’t match the in-store prices to the online ones.

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  13. Lisa J
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 10:32:41

    @Laura Hunsaker: Go to your library, there is a download button under each title. Click on it and save it to your computer.

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  14. Erika
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 10:58:12

    What’s frustrating for me about brick and mortar stores is that they so rarely have what I want. Selection just isn’t what it used to be. So, if I want to buy from a physical B&N, for example, I have to run all over the city hoping that the book I want will be available. If it’s not in stock, I’m told I can order it–but that takes 2 weeks, if they can get it at all.

    So, unfortunately, it’s easier to turn to Amazon, where I know they do have the book in stock, 99 percent of the time.

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  15. Darlynne
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 11:01:11

    @Geert: Even if you download your BN books through their software/library, you still don’t have unfettered access to the book. If–and this happened to me–you change the credit card associated with your BN account, you cannot open the books you previously downloaded (in a program outside of Nook) if the DRM hasn’t been properly removed.

    The available removal tools say that BN DRM cannot be “cracked,” so you have to keep your Calibre BN add-in updated with your credit card information for those books as well. This is BN getting between us and our legitimate purchases in an additional way that Kobo and Amazon do not.

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  16. cleo
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 11:41:52

    @Laura Hunsaker: I have the Nook app (which is free and available on the BN site) on my computer. There’s a button in the library (update? something like that) that downloads all of my Nook books to my harddrive (in my Documents folder – I have a PC). It’s pretty easy. I also put a copy of all of them in a Dropbox folder.

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  17. Lynn M
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 11:54:50

    I adore big-box bookstores and was devastated when we lost Borders. I would hate to see B&N go out of business. That said, I rarely buy books there because:
    1 – the most expensive place to buy a printed book anywhere is at a B&N store. I can get it cheaper pretty much any place else.
    2 – 99% of the time, the Kindle e-book is cheaper than the Nook price. I have a Nook, but I will not pay an extra $1-2 for a book I can get at Amazon.
    3 – with Prime membership and its free 2-day shipping, I can get ANY book I want in two days. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hauled it to B&N wanting a particular title to find that they don’t have it in stock.
    4 – my local B&N moved its location to the mall. I HATE going to the mall. There is zero parking and the traffic is terrible. It’s not in the least bit convenient to go to the actual store.

    I don’t have the answer on what B&N can do, and I do feel like a hypocrite saying that I don’t want to lose it when I shop more frequently at Amazon. As a consumer, it just makes more sense.

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  18. Megaera
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 12:19:20

    B&N’s sales model is for people like my 89-year-old mother, who is one of the few remaining individuals out there who do not do computers and therefore don’t have all the other options for buying books. It’s the fact that that generation is dying off that killed Borders and is killing Barnes and Noble. I’m not sure there’s much to be done about that, honestly. Or that there should be, even though the death of the last U.S. big box bookstore chain is going to change the publishing landscape irrevocably.

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  19. Ducky
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 12:23:44

    My local B&N hardly ever has what I want. I recently was looking for a particular calendar and they couldn’t even order it, never mind having it in store. So I ordered it from Amazon. Target also has new romance titles way before B&N gets them, and cheaper. So why should I shop at B&N?

    When Borders was still around I preferred it to B&N – the store atmosphere was more to my liking and the employees much nicer and more informed. Years now and I still miss Borders.

    These days I am buying about 80% ebooks for my Kindle and 20% used books either from Amazon or from my local paperback exchange.

    I can’t even remember when I last spent money at B&N.

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  20. Sunita
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 12:46:25

    @Darlynne: I know that iBooks haven’t been cracked yet (at least the last time I looked), but B&N DRM was cracked quite a while ago, unless something changed and the cracks don’t work for newer books. But I added the plug-ins to Calibre ages ago and have all my B&N purchases de-DRM’d and saved, so the changing credit card thing doesn’t hurt me. The only books I’m pretty sure can’t be de-DRM’d from B&N are textbooks.

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  21. Geert
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 12:47:39

    @darlynne
    B&N ebook files are just password protected files (the password being your credit card number and name). This encryption is completely enclosed within the file. Even if the credit card and B&N’s DRM server would no longer exist, you would still be able to read the ebooks, and to copy them to as many devices as you want to.
    B&N’s DRM is the least restrictive DRM available. With Kindle DRM you need the Kindle DRM server to download a specific copy tied to the hardware of one specific device. With Adobe DRM you need Adobe’s DRM server to authorize every device.
    Only B&N DRM ebook files can be copied to as many devices as you want to, as many times as you want to, without needing an DRM server.

    Calibre can only read ebooks without DRM. So if you are using Calibre with an DRM removal plugin to read B&N ebooks, then yes, the plugin needs the correct credit card number and name to remove the DRM.
    If you use a program that supports the B&N DRM, like for example Adobe Digital Editions 2.0, it will ask you which credit card number and name to use to read the ebooks, and will remember the different credit card numbers used.

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  22. DianeN
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 13:26:36

    I love my local B & N, which I’ve been patronizing for many years. I used to live just a few miles away so I was there several times a week. I still make it a point to drop in once or twice a month, even though I’ve moved out of town and it’s not as convenient for me to do so. I especially enjoy being able to sit in the cafe and read books for free on my Nook. It’s a great way to decide if a book will be worth purchasing. Or sometimes I just wander around and pull anything that looks interesting, then grab a coffee and a table to browse through them. The staff has never had any problem with people reading but not buying, and I definitely appreciate that. Even though I prefer ebooks, I’ve been making it a point to occasionally buy something from the store, especially when I have coupons to use. I know I could get most of my purchases cheaper online, but I don’t want to see my store close so I consider these purchases an investment in keeping it open. My store is vibrant and welcoming, the staff are uniformly excellent, and even though I’m usually there on weekday mornings, the place is usually always bustling with activity.

    Having said all that, it’s obvious to me that B & N’s brick and mortar stores are going to close sooner rather than later. This particularly saddens me because I only know of two indie booksellers in the area and neither of them stock romances, or pretty much any other genre fiction for that matter. If anything I’m usually an internet apologist, but I truly hate it that businesses like B & N are becoming extinct because they can’t compete with their online counterparts.

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  23. Darlynne
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 13:35:40

    @Geert: Then it’s a case of my mileage varying, user error or something. Bottom line, I’m done with BN and have been for a long time. The idea that I even need to add that credit card information to Calibre, that I have to resort to yet another program like Adobe Digital Editions, that other vendors don’t present the same problems in Calibre and import smoothly: these reasons and others are just one more piece of what’s wrong with BN, imo.

    @Sunita: I installed and customized the necessary plugins almost two years ago, everything worked fine and then I couldn’t read previously downloaded books because of the change in my credit card information. As I said, it could have been my fault, but the hoops BN makes us jump through negate any value shopping at their site might have.

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  24. Sheri Humphreys
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 14:10:44

    Even with print internet sales, B&N can’t compete with Amazon. Several times I’ve wanted out-of-print nonfiction books for research purposes. I’ve looked at both sellers. B&N won’t have the book. Amazon will.

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  25. farmwifetwo
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 15:18:51

    @Holly: Chapters made the mistake a few yrs ago and jumped free shipping to $35 from $25. It took 6 mths for them to learn the lesson. Amazon has just done the same which will work in chapters favour.

    Chapters online has different promos than in store. I can only order online and the prices do compete with amazon. I am pls’d that you can now get both the 5% off online and the plum rewards. I have to find a store to cash them in, but I do get to the city every so often.

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  26. Lil
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 15:45:14

    Given a choice, I would rather buy a book in a bricks and mortar store than online. In part this is because I would generally like to see a book before I buy it, and look at some others while I’m at it. This is particularly important if I am buying gift books for children. However…
    The only bookstore left within reasonable driving distance is Barnes and Noble. It used to be a pretty good bookstore. These days, however, it is a toy/gift store with only about a quarter of the space (if that) devoted to books. It is not exactly a browser’s paradise.
    If there is a particular book I want, I have no way of knowing if they have it in stock at the nearby B&N. When Borders was around, I could go online and get precisely that information. And if the local store didn’t have the book, I could see if any slightly more distant stores had it. On B&N’s site, I can find out if they carry the book, but not where. So the site is only useful for online ordering.
    Will I be sorry if B&N departs the scene? Yes. But I won’t be heartbroken.

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  27. Sunny
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 17:48:33

    @Holly: I totally understand! Although I don’t think it’s cool that they wanted you to come back, but I know how bananas the stockroom can get if shelving is behind. Our store is fortunate enough to have overnight shifts that keep the box numbers manageable and books on the shelves, not in the stock room. We used to be weeks behind on shelving, now it’s under 24hrs, and the difference is indescribable.

    Ship to store is also killing sales — buy at the online price, free shipping to your local store, and if something’s damaged they’ll replace it off the store shelves. Great customer service but it’s hemorrhaging money, especially as they have to hire staff JUST to do the ship-to-store orders now (from the store payroll). The stores do have different sales than Online, mostly fiction in-store is on sale and things like cookbooks, art books and other big expensive hardcovers are on sale Online. The sticker shock is awful for someone who looked up the price online then came in to see the book, however…

    Right now about 60% of store income is from books, I see that number decreasing as the years continue — I think Chapters has done a pretty good job transitioning into a multi-department store and will survive, so B&N may need to take notes, but it’s awfully hard for massive stores to stay agile and responsive.

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  28. Sunita
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 17:53:48

    @Darlynne: No, that’s not your fault at all. I hate the CC-info system. When I was first de-DRMing books using terminal commands I kept having to figure out which CC I had used for which books. It was a huge pain.

    I feel as if there should be a fix for this, but I have no idea what it is. I’ve given up buying books from B&N for a variety of reasons, so I basically agree with what you’re saying.

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  29. Lynn M
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 18:08:29

    @DianeN: Exactly – I hate that there really isn’t any way for B&N to remain competitive, which spells an eventual end to their brick and mortar stores. When my husband and I were first married and living in downtown Chicago, we would literally spend our Friday nights in B&N as entertainment. I love to browse the books, and I never walk out of there with just one. It’s an experience that can never be replicated in any virtual form, and I fear the day when the only way to get books is either online or at the big box chain stores (Target, Walmart) that offer very limited selections. I will miss the atmosphere and the thrill of discovery. Even the smell of brewing Starbucks coffee!

    Yet, books are a luxury for most people, so if B&N cannot be price competitive, it’s only reasonable that people will shop elsewhere. I get that.

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  30. txvoodoo
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 18:51:31

    @Megaera:

    My 88 yr old mom now gets books in one of two ways:

    1 – the library, where she volunteers,
    2 – has me order it from Amazon for her.

    Either way, she’d never go into a B&N these days.

    Not specifically to you, but in my opinion, the only way for B&N to fix itself would be to invent a time machine, go back and change their entire strategy towards doing business in the internet age. They’ve made too many wrong moves since day one, and it’s all adding up now.

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  31. Laura
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 18:59:09

    Have new releases on the day they come out.

    I can remember a decade or so ago when I would go to B&N late Monday night-they would already be stocking the Tuesday new arrivals and I just might be able to get the new title I wanted that night instead of the next day!!! Nowadays, unless it’s a major hardback release, I have trouble finding new titles on release day. So, Kindle.
    Price matching, doubt it will happen. I am a huge cookbook buyer, and won’t pay $40 at B&N for a book I can get for $25 at Amazon.

    I don’t know how they will survive with their current footprint. If they cut the size of the store in half, stopped selling all the toys and crap, and didn’t make me wade past the giant Nook/Nook extras display to get to the books it would help. I hope they make it, because I enjoy shopping there. The folks at my store are for the most part, book loving and friendly, and most have been there for years.

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  32. hapax
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 21:11:10

    We always used to get B&N gift cards in our Christmas stockings. The whole family would pile out to the store the week after the holiday, and spend a glorious afternoon browsing books, sipping coffee and hot chocolate, and always spending more than was on the cards.

    Last time I did that was, hmm, three years ago? We all wandered around the huge displays of toys and tchotchkes, and nobody could find anything they wanted to spend their gift cards on.

    I like my Nook because I *vastly* prefer e-ink, but the store drives me bonkers — too expensive and hard to search, let alone browse. And if you prefer to sideload (I never turn on the wireless — it’s nobody’s business what I’m reading, thank you), their customer service is useless.

    I really want Barnes & Noble to succeed. But as others have said, about the only way I can see it is if they take just about every decision they’ve made in the past six or seven years, and do the exact opposite.

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  33. Holly
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 21:30:02

    @Sunny Yes, at one store, she told me to come back in a WEEK and it might be unpacked. Normally they say a day or two.

    I used ship to store once, but they got the book in store and on the shelf the next day and I had to wait several days for my ordered copy to come in. I was not impressed.

    I’m surprised it’s 60% of their sales – I think both Chapters and B&N are going to have to make books a priority again. Is it totally naive to think they could work with publishers to do so? Not price wise (ha! like that would happen) Even getting books on time to stores would make a big difference. The publisher is always blamed when Chapters doesn’t have titles in on their release date. If stores like Best Buy can always have movies and video games on a release date, why can’t books be in on time?

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  34. Mzcue
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 21:38:28

    There is a stunning irony to this discussion. It wasn’t so many years ago that we witnessed the demise of independent bookstores, and even the smaller chains, that couldn’t compete with the new behemoths that were Borders and B&N.

    Personally, I wish I could be more at ease with what goes on behind the scenes of the Amazons and Walmarts. I wonder about the armies of pickers and packers and shippers who have replaced the well-informed, bibliophiles that bookstores once employed.

    Amazon’s low prices may end up costing us in the long run. Eventually the pressure for rock bottom costs may mean that few people have enough discretionary income to buy things like books. I sometimes wonder if in businesses’ pursuit of profit margins, the golden goose is getting cooked.

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  35. yuzutea
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 21:53:42

    What about also selling used books?

    As for Nook, B&N hasn’t created any exciting programs like the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library or Matchbook. B&N has tried playing catch-up to the Kindle Paperwhite, but they need to go beyond and not just be equal. What about a partnership with Oyster or Scribd, to integrate subscription services? Give everyone who buys a Nook two month’s free service, for example.

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  36. Parajunkee
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 22:40:45

    While most of my books I purchase are through Amazon, I do find myself in B&N a lot – and it is always crowded. I know they can’t compete with Amazon, but obviously something they are doing is wrong. I think their “discount” card is a joke, though and any retailer has to compete in a market if they want to survive and their prices are always much more then other retailers. I agree to pay more for books from my Indie stores, just because they are Indie and I’m trying to support local. Doesn’t mean I like it though. I’m a freelancer and I have to match my prices with the large businesses, or people wouldn’t buy from me.

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  37. The Morning Coffee - 23 December 2013 - The Digital Reader
    Dec 22, 2013 @ 23:31:12

    […] How can Barnes & Noble compete in 2014 and beyond? (Dear Author) […]

  38. Lea
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 01:18:31

    @Lil There is a “check in store” option for titles on bn.com and I have always gotten a response within 30 minutes – the book is waiting for me at the cash register if it is in stock. The only books this doesn’t work with are books being sold in their marketplace. I love this service!

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  39. Emily E
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 01:21:26

    I loved my first gen Nook. The next one, a Touch, had all this formatting, limiting the number of non B&N books that I can load. Sorry B&N, you lost me. No store in my county, poor customer service, and I keep hitting the space limit. My next reader is from another company, with a memory slot. And I bought it at my local Independant book store. (Good marketing decision Kobo.)

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  40. Chris Meadows
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 04:25:41

    It’s kind of looking like they can’t compete on service either. I recently happened across an LJ community where B&N reps vent anonymously about how bad things are in the stores, and some of their complaints are doozies. B&N is cutting back hours during the holiday season, right when they should be working everyone around the clock and adding temp help. One B&N employee quit to take a job at McDonalds, which paid $1 an hour more (This is McDonald’s, the poster child for not paying its employees a living wage, and it pays a buck an hour more than B&N!!) and offered 40 hour weeks.

    A common theme seems to be that corporate management is mismanaging the stores, driving them into the ground. Apparently similar complaints were heard from Borders employees shortly before the end.

    I suspect B&N may not be long for this world.

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  41. Lil
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 08:45:18

    @Lea: Thanks, Lea. I haven’t been to their site recently and I couldn’t find this feature last time I looked. Now if they would just put some books in their stores…

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  42. Bargain Book Mole
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 14:58:50

    Price matching probably would help, but Amazon plays that game fiercely. B&N now has a shipping advantage with $25 for free shipping, but is hurt notably online by the tax they pay and Amazon avoids.

    I think big idea for B&N would be FREE SHIPPING TO STORE. Then customers come in, get free shipping for all books and increases store traffic and no doubt sales!

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  43. Jane
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 15:02:17

    @Bargain Book Mole: They already do free shipping to the store.

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  44. David Skarjune
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 15:21:14

    The recurring theme in the comments here is clear. Customers want to patronize B&N, store clerks work hard to help customers, but B&N management is tanking the brand.

    The B&N web and Nook UX pales to Amazon/Kindle and Kobo, which is ironic given that the Nook Touch was a breakthrough device. Now the Nook Color is one of the worst tablets ever concocted using Android.

    After being a B&N member for over a decade, I quit for two reasons. Trying to renew my membership at a store they cut up my card and handed me a blank application. How’s that for loyalty? Besides they send me discount coupons anyway without it.

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  45. Evangeline
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 15:29:34

    I started thinking of ways B&N could remain competitive…and Amazon already covers those bases. And I can also rely upon my local library system for new releases, ebooks, music, and DVDs.

    Also, it isn’t even about price, but the ease of discoverability that the internet in general has facilitated. I follow a lot of food and sewing blogs, and a number of the bigger bloggers have written cookbooks or sewing books–Gretchen Hirsch of Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing or Deb of Smitten Kitchen has a book?! Click the “buy” link directly from her blog. OR someone on Dear Author, Twitter, Facebook, or a forum mentions a book that sounds interesting? One click takes me to my preferred e-tailer for purchase. Barnes & Noble cannot compete with that; they facilitate a largely anonymous and passive discovery of books that is really no different than browsing the book sections of supermarkets and Wal-Mart/Target/K-Mart.

    Admittedly, I’ve always found B&N “cold” compared to Borders and Waldens, but when I think about books, I think about the reading and writing community I see online. When I walk into B&N, I don’t feel any of that–the employees are standing behind their shop counters, fellow book buyers avoid eye contact and skitter around one another, and the books are just sitting on the shelves (which makes me ever more appreciative of librarians, who connect with patrons and the community through their holdings).

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  46. Jean
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 15:48:27

    I still love B&N and have been a Nook owner and user for years. However, I’m no longer EXCLUSIVELY a Nook and B&N consumer for the same reasons that others have mentioned. Price, convenience, ease of use. I would like to see B&N become the Nordstrom of book retailers. I often purchase something at Nordstrom and pay $1 or $2 more for it because: a) I know I get superior customer service, 2) I can always return it with no questions asked, and 3) they always offer free shipping. If B&N did all of that, I would gladly be back as a loyal customer. I do hope they figure it out soon. I hate to see another store disappear, whether it be a chain or indie bookstore.

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  47. Tony Burton
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 17:10:40

    As a small-press publisher using the cost-effective method of print-on-demand for most of my books, I’m insulted every time I inquire about a book signing or author event at a B&N. It’s like they turn up their nose at a production technique that is eco-friendly and prevents cost overruns on print jobs and allows smaller presses to publish books.

    And charging for their member rewards program??? Hey, I can go to Office Depot, any of my local grocery stores, Staples, and a hundred other places I may frequent and get member discounts for FREE. Office Depot, Kroger, and Staples even send me money in the form of gift cards and certificates for my frequent purchases. But B&N wants me to PAY for the privilege of using their store, which does not price-match.

    This is not customer-centric marketing. It’s stupid.

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  48. Tony Burton
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 17:11:09

    As a small-press publisher using the cost-effective method of print-on-demand for most of my books, I’m insulted every time I inquire about a book signing or author event at a B&N. It’s like they turn up their nose at a production technique that is eco-friendly and prevents cost overruns on print jobs, allowing smaller presses to publish books.

    And charging for their member rewards program??? Hey, I can go to Office Depot, any of my local grocery stores, Staples, and a hundred other places I may frequent and get member discounts for FREE. Office Depot, Kroger, and Staples even send me money in the form of gift cards and certificates for my frequent purchases. But B&N wants me to PAY for the privilege of using their store, which does not price-match.

    This is not customer-centric marketing. It’s stupid.

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  49. david
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 17:19:22

    If B&N is to survive as a bookstore, they should give more space to books and less to toys , hire more employees, and hire employees who care and know about books

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  50. david
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 17:22:42

    @Jean: I agree completely. Nordstrom employees are knowledgeable, helpful, and easily found if they do not find you first. I do not mind paying their prices.

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  51. Jules
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 21:01:38

    The only reason I go to B&N anymore is to look through the children’s books. That is one thing that it is hard for me to buy online. I don’t think WalMart or Target have a good enough selection for me to search through. So I go there and get to read them, make sure they are what I want and then I buy them.

    When I was checking out with my gifts on Sunday, the cashier tried to sell me on their rewards program. And I told him, “I mostly buy eBooks so it wouldn’t help me at all. *pause* Unless that’s changed?” “No. That’s just how it is” He was so unfriendly about it, too.

    I still buy eBooks from them because it’s easier to get them on my Nook and I don’t buy books often. I agree overall with everyone though. I don’t know how they will be able to survive or what they should do to try.

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  52. Steve Elliot
    Dec 24, 2013 @ 13:57:26

    Thanks for the interesting article and thoughts! The death of Barnes and Noble has been predicted for quite some time now. While they are facing some tough times and difficult decisions ahead, they are still the largest brick and mortar retail bookstore. My feeling is that they will survive and I hope thrive.

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  53. Danielle
    Dec 24, 2013 @ 16:49:04

    I love my Kobo. I have found so many great books on line for free that I doubt I will ever buy another book. Just from Project Gutenberg alone I have found more good stuff to lase me for at least 75 years. Then there is Smashwords and the free library at Baen Books. At least with mo Kobo, I am not tied to any bookseller and have been able to load a backup copy of every book on my PC. I manage them for free with Calibre software.

    This tells me that regular booksellers have a limited future. I do not even feel comfortable holding a regular book any more. I gave away all the ones I had. I love my E-ink display.

    One hint – If I load more than 300 titles on my Kobo the indexing gets slow so I rotate them between my computer and reader.

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  54. Liz
    Dec 26, 2013 @ 19:05:47

    @Erika: Two weeks? Actual delivery time is 3-4 business days in store (usually two, but they have to say 3-4) and about 5 business days to your home.

    What you guys don’t understand is that when BN is gone, Amazon is going to jack up their prices on books because there will be no competition. You can see how that’s played out with other merchandise that Amazon sells after knocking out the competition. So spend an extra dollar (or simply order through BN, the online prices are actually very close to Amazon online prices on most items) because once that unfortunately inevitable day comes, Amazon is going to have the last laugh. –a former BN employee

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  55. Kathryn
    Dec 28, 2013 @ 08:11:17

    As an employee of BN, there is so much wrong with this article, and many of the comments, I hardly know where to begin.
    1- The BN employee Livejournal site is frequented by bitter folks, many of whom I suspect are trolls and never have set foot in a BN. Dearest Jane, if you wish to be kept abreast of the attitudes of current BN booksellers, join their employee FB page. Yes, you will see some serious venting, but you will also see evidence of the very best in what individual book-loving booksellers have to offer.
    2- Yep, BN membership has a fee, which I suspect is too high, but what are those member benefits? Free expedited shipping on BN.com orders. 10% off most in-store merch, which can be layered with e-mailed coupons. Member’s e-mail coupons are 5-10 percentage pts higher then non-member coupons. New members are sent $50 in store-wide coupons as a welcome, to help ease the burden of the fee, which is why I suspect one of your above commenters was given a new application when his current member card expired. Booksellers in the trenches want to give you any benefit they can to keep your business.
    3-Price matching? The typical BN.com price is comparable to Amazon, so if you are in a store, looking for a cheaper price, BN can ship that item to your home, give you the online price, and members pay no shipping. Did you know that if your total purchase transaction is at least $25, BN will also waive shipping fees, even for NON-members. Why can’t you get the on-line price & take the book with you right now? Well, you can’t do that with Amazon, either, right? No store can deep discount every single item, when they also must pay for heat,lights, clean (mostly) bathrooms, events, kids storytimes, and knowledgeable staff to help you.
    4- A quick internet search yielded the info that a typical clothing markup for retail is 200-300%. Anyone here know what the typical book markup is? About 40%. The Nordstrom comparison doesn’t fly.
    Any actual bookstore employee (with any company) will tell you that retail life is imperfect, and, quite often, we can’t tell what the heck is going in the minds of corporate poobahs. But it would help if articles such as these would do some fact-finding before comparing apples and oranges.
    There is a recent piece in the Washington Post by a Politics & Prose bookseller that gives customers an idea of what the typical bookselling day is like. Look it up. She’s not lying, it’s really like that. Try to get that service from Amazon. And, also, too, try using Amazon’s bathrooms.

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  56. Jane
    Dec 28, 2013 @ 08:20:45

    @Kathryn: Thanks for commenting. I’m not sure which “facts” I got wrong in the article. I never mentioned the LiveJournal site nor did I mention the issue of CS although I’d argue while in store CS is decent, the online BN.com CS is atrocious. Worst shopping experience ever for me and many of the other commenters.

    I didn’t mention the cost of the BN membership other than to say that other features could be offered, such as price matching.

    Nordstroms is an example of a retailer who is willing to price match but so is Best Buy and if you followed the link, you’d see that many other retailers are price matching as well. Consumers armed with smartphones are reluctant to spend 30%-50% more on a product because there is a retail footprint.

    The fact is that BN stock is 70% lower than it was 7 years ago. BN stores are closing and the Nook portion is losing so much money that BN had to fudge its books to make it look better. The fact is BN is in serious trouble. I don’t think that anyone who loves books really wants to see BN go out of business. I certainly don’t and I spend money there on a weekly basis, in the store (primarily for my kid). But consumers aren’t the ones responsible for keeping BN in business. BN’s corporate business decision makers are.

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  57. Theresa M. Moore
    Dec 29, 2013 @ 05:58:47

    I have a different pov to bring to the table. As a self-published author who uses a professional printer and distributor, I am often shocked at the ignorance displayed by those who think price-matching is a good idea. Someone wrote the books you are buying and, regardless of which kind of publishing took place, book stores already buy at the lowest wholesale price possible. This means that in order for the book to get sold it is already priced at a near rock bottom level to begin with, and the bookstore gets away from discounting that price because it is presumed that the book will be bought. But here’s the kicker: most of the books sitting in those cartons get returned at the end of the month unsold for a refund. So the premise that print on demand is a paper saver is a bad one. Amazon discounts many of the books it sells below cost, which means the royalty due to authors is discounted heavily. Ebooks which are priced at one level are considered to be giveaways, and Amazon does not care what happens to the money authors are owed. BN may be a dinosaur at this point but the one thing it does not do is arbitrarily give books away without compensation to the supplier. Think about that the next time you pick up a book and complain about the price.

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