The problem isn’t browsing

I guess it’s inevitable that Barnes & Noble seems to be dominating much of the publishing industry-related news of late. First, they fired yet another chief executive. Now the company is being run by a group of three, with Leonard Riggio looking over their shoulders. Then the company reported lower in-store sales–again. Now comes a story from Business Insider about what they think is wrong with the stores. There’s nothing unexpected there but it leaves a few things out, in my opinion.

So, what does BI say is wrong?

Basically, they lay the problem at the feet of customers coming in to browse but not buy. Except that’s not the only problem. It isn’t even the real problem, at least not in my opinion. It is merely a symptom of what’s wrong with the corporate mindset of the company and how it designs its stores.

For the article, Jessica Tyler visited visited the Union Square B&N in Manhattan. The first floor had newly released books to the right of the entrance. To the left were NY-themed books. Okay, so far so good. The first thing you see when you enter a bookstore is, well, books. But let’s continue our journey through the store to see what we find.

Nearby, at least I assume they were nearby were “blind date” books, books covered in brown paper with only a brief description written on then paper. There was also a display of collectible editions of the “classics”. Still, all good. we’re seeing books.

Then we get to what has me scratching my head. We are on the ground floor of the store. The floor where I assume most customers make entry. Is the floor dedicated mainly–or completely–to books? Nope. There is a large area things like desk accessories, water bottles, umbrellas and “other seemingly random merchandise”. Oops. That “seemingly random” bit should be of concern. Why oh why is the first floor, the main floor, showcasing anything that doesn’t promote books or other reading material?

Our journey continues on to the greeting cards, wrapping paper and other gift accessories. Okay, I can almost see that. After all, people give books for gifts and need a way to wrap them.

Now we get to the next real cause of concern. The back of the first floor was dedicated to CDs, DVDs and vinyl records. There was a register but it was closed and no one was shopping in the area. Well, I don’t know about you, but I tend to stream all my music these days or buy digital versions. I do the same with videos. Most folks don’t have anything to play vinyl on. So why is prime real estate being used for these items?

And how much of the first floor is actually dedicated to books?

Next to this section was the Nook section. You remember the Nook, don’t you? BN’s answer to the Kindle that never caught on because it came in too late, had too many restrictions, etc. But, damn it, they will continue to promote it and try to sell accessories. Except it’s hard to do when you have a section dedicated to it but no one working the area to answer questions, demonstrate how the Nook works, etc.

Let’s move on to the second floor. Yes, yes, there’s more to go and more problems to reveal.

This is where you’ll find the kid’s section. According to Tyler, the floor was bustling with kids and parents. There you could find toys and books and games. And no one buying anything.

Well, could it be the price of the toys and games? Could it be because the kids were more interested in playing with what was out than they were in finding a book to read? Note one other thing. Parents were there with their kids. This is good. But it is bad from a retail point of view because it means the parents aren’t shopping elsewhere in the store. But have they altered the store layout to allow parents to leave their children temporarily in the kids section on the same floor as the adult books? Nope. Because they want to have all this space for games and puzzles and toys and not focus on what they are known for–books.

Up one more floor and we find the in-store Starbucks. Oooh, there are magazines nearby. According to Tyler, the coffee shop was the busiest part of the store. Duh. So where are the books?

Bueller? Bueller?

Finally, we get to the fourth floor and–gasp–books. The floor was, according to Tyler, “almost entirely books”. People were browsing and reading, taking advantage of the chairs and benches. But they weren’t buying. Oh those awful browsers.

Tyler notes that only the registers on the ground floor had customers. Of those, only two out of ten registers were open. She notes the price differential between BN and Amazon, although she doesn’t take a hard swipe at Amazon. For that I give her kudos. What she doesn’t discuss is the level of customer service in the store or whether or not the employees knew their stock and could do something as fundamental as make book recommendations. I don’t know about you, but that’s important to me. I want to be able to go into a bookstore, say I love reading Dave Freer and not only be pointed to where his books are stocked but shown others who write similarly to him.

The fact BN is getting people through the doors is good. But the company has to figure out what the company’s identity is. If it is a merchandise store, it needs to give up on the Nook and quit trying to be a bookseller. If it is a bookstore, it needs to feature books on the main floors where it has traffic–the first floor and the floor where the coffee shop is located. It needs to recognize that parents don’t want to leave their children, especially young children, on a different floor from where they want to shop. If presented with that as an option, most parents will let the kids have fun and then move on. Time is valuable.

But you don’t expect your customers to go from the first floor to the fourth just to look at books. Front to back, sure. That’s in eyesight. Maybe even up one floor, especially if they can see the books from the ground floor to the next. But not up three or four frigging floors.

BN is in trouble. Is it going to die? Maybe. It does need to get someone into a leadership role who can stand up to Riggio and who can lead the company in a direction that will begin to turn a real profit. Otherwise, it may as well sell out. For the sake of the publishing industry, it needs to return to its roots and understand that bigger isn’t always better.



50 thoughts on “The problem isn’t browsing

  1. Because if The Roman Empire taught us anything, it’s that Triumvirates are a really great idea!


  2. The regional B&N has the Nook stand front and center, with books and book-ish gifts to the left and check out to the right. Behind the Nook stand and all across the front of the store are book shelves, some with the best sellers, some with the deep discount and house brand titles, then books all the way to the kids’ section. The gifty stuff is scattered in between the books.

    1. That is a better set up than the NYC store but still not optimal–at least not if BN is a bookstore. If it wants to identify as something else, cool. But, as long as it is nominally a bookstore, its focus should be on books. To me, when I walk into a bookstore, I want to see the best sellers and new releases front and center. Then the local interest books. Then, off to a side, the discounted books with the remainder of the books taking up most of the rest of the store. But then I’m weird.

      1. The only other things to even consider on the first floor (assuming a multi-story store) would be the kiddie/play section and a/the coffee shop – and those should be at the rear, and fairly near each other – close enough that Ma and/or Pa can keep half an eye on the kids as they read & sip. But perhaps far enough away that those sans kids aren’t overly distracted by them. And to get there… one goes past.. all those books.

        1. If you are saying you are a bookstore, absolutely! Don’t separate the stock between floors and make it difficult, or time consuming, to get to.

        2. And have the nook on the opposite side of the kids’ area from the coffee. Make sure to emphasize how you can fit a whole library in your purse/satchel.

        1. Well, actually (having been a print book publisher) I can say with some confidence that the retailer’s margin on books is between 40% and 50%, depending on the genre and whatever deals the retail chain can cut with the publisher.

        2. Yeah, this is what’s killing trad pub too. Dorks. Neglect the parts that bring i less regularly and go for the big pay off… which half the time doesn’t materialize.

  3. I am part of the longest running weekly groups at a local B &N, a single story affair.  I joined the group about twenty years ago.  The group had started a few years before when the store first opened.  We have seen many changes in the store over the years. 

    I have no problem with the impulse buy nick-nacks that are on display near the register, nor the mole skin notebooks and reading glasses that are displayed there as well.  One of the group regularly picks up cards.  

    I noticed the re-introduction of vinyl records, which at first puzzled me.  While not flying off the display, the records are moving.  Among some music aficionados there is a movement back to what is considered the warmer sound of records.  

    The other stuff?  When the discount tables are set up only a few of these hit the table.  So either they are returnable to the distributor or they are selling.  (Not to me, but to someone.)

    All of that ramble — all sorts of brick and mortar shops are disappearing.  This includes stationers, card stores, toy stores and recorded music stores.  I have looked at what they are doing at B&N as attempting to pick up the market for those who want items they can no longer buy at such specialty stores.  A kind of reinvention as a media and media based accessories department store, for those who want to actually hold an item in hand before purchase, instead of going to online shopping. 

    There are people who browse, then use their phones to check prices at Amazon, etc..  You can generally find the book for less ordering online.  So, in the store, the book goes back up on the shelf.  That has got to hurt.  Can you blame B&N for trying to find something people will actually buy at the store?

    1. I don’t mind the impulse buys of the glasses, cards, etc., Our local BN, before it moved to the bigger and supposedly better store, had a great set up. The registers were to your left as you walked inside. In the far right corner was the stationary, gift wrap/sacks, etc. The Moleskin items were there too. Before you got to them, you had the magazines. But once you stepped fully inside, ie past the registers and promo stuff, you had books. Front and center were best sellers and new releases. To the left, you had a smaller area of local interest. Behind the best sellers and new releases and heading right and back were the rest of the adult fiction books. Non-fiction was straight back and ran into the AV department. The kids section was to the left, after the local interest and close out shelves. There was always at least one employee in the kids section to look after the kids while Mom and Dad shopped.

      As for the rest of it? I don’t mind BN trying to find its niche. What I mind is that Riggio won’t relinquish control enough that they can actually do so. I also mind how BN continues to blame everyone and everything but itself for its failures. The way it has been treating its employees the last few years was pretty much the last nail for me where the company was concerned. Basically, if it wants to be a bookstore, it needs to be a bookstore. If it wants to be a Target or Walmart, fine. Then it needs to embrace that fully. That was basically what two COO’s ago was aiming for. He didn’t last long.

      Honestly, the best thing that could happen for the company, its employees and its customers is for it to sell. Then it would have a new slate to start with.

      1. Reading today’s MGC entry, Diary of a Mad Reader, one cannot help but reflect — B&N might have a better time with selling books if publishers were printing books people enjoyed and wanted to read.

        1. True. But, even when trad publishing was basically the only game in town, BN had started down the road leading to where they are today. They over-estimated the market and didn’t respond quickly enough when the real estate market took a nose dive. Here they were with these huge stores in shopping centers where much of their rent was based on sales AND square footage. Instead of moving away from mega stores, they continued building bigger and “better”. Then they started building too close together. There was a time when I could drive no more than half an hour from the house and find close to a dozen BN stores. That is now down to about half that. Yes, that’s partly because of what books are being sold by publishers. It is also because of their refusal to carry Amazon-published books. It is also because they have no real corporate identity.

  4. Holy COW! A B&N with 4 floors?!?! Our local B&N only has two floors, and I thought THAT was impressive.

    I used to love to go to B&N. It was my go-to place to buy books (actual physical paper and ink ones anyway). I used to be one of those anti-e-book people, preferring the experience and feel of reading a “real” book. Then, friends talked me into getting a Kindle Paperwhite because I was going on a trip. A few days with the Paperwhite and I’ve never looked back. Since then, I’ve installed the Kindle app on my phone. While not as nice to read from as the Paperwhite, at least I always have reading material with me wherever I go. Sure, I did before, but now I don’t have to drag a book-bag of some sort around with me.

    I really think e-books are what is killing B&N. They just didn’t get into the game quickly enough at the beginning. What they needed was an Amazon killer, and they weren’t even close. Now it’s probably too late.

    And no, I don’t browse B&N and then buy Amazon. If I’m in B&N its for a book that I wouldn’t want to have an e-book copy of. Something like a cook book. Otherwise, I “browse” on the Amazon site. The B&N bookshelf doesn’t have reviews, and while you can’t always trust Amazon reviews, they can at least give you a feel for what you are getting..

    1. Even after I became an Amazon convert, I still shopped at BN for a long time. I’d go in, grab a cup of coffee and browse. Almost always, I’d find something I wanted and, since I was there, I’d get it. The additional price was usually worth the trade off in having to wait to get the book. But that was when I could find something that wasn’t a best seller there. Now there is little in their non-fiction offerings that interests me. I haven’t found fiction there in ages. The Baen offerings have withered away to almost nothing. Hell, the last time I asked for a new Baen title, I felt like I’d walked back in time to Borders right before they went under. Then, as now, I had a clerk who had never heard of Baen, insisted it wasn’t a real publisher and they couldn’t order titles from it. They lost a sale and Amazon gained one.

      1. There are places where I’m tempted to showroom, but books aren’t one of them. If I find a book I like, it’s impossible to take it away from me without heavy machinery until I’ve finished reading it.

        Yeah, B&N’s main problem for me is that I can rarely wade through the nicknacks to find a book I want.

    2. It’s not didn’t get in the game early enough. I haven’t bothered pubbing there in YEARS, but their interface is insane and difficult. And browsing for ebooks is just as difficult.

  5. The last time I was in a B&N looking for a specific book (and also spent some time browsing to try and find other books I might like) the sticker price was Significantly higher than the price on Amazon. Like… about 60% higher. I picked up my phone, ordered the book, and moved on to the discount racks, where if I recall correctly I did buy a book. Also, the book was a cookbook and wrapped in plastic so you couldn’t open it to look inside, and with a sticker price of $50 (I paid 19.97 on Amazon) I wasn’t about to drop that kind of coin on a pig in a poke.

    1. Been there and done that as well. I understand why they wrap cookbooks and the like. There really are folks who come in and rip out recipes or simply use their phones to take pictures of them. But I also want to know what I’m getting for my money. At least with Amazon, I can check out the first few pages with the “look inside” feature.

  6. I currently live a 45 minute drive away from the nearest “real” bookstore. (The local bookstores are mostly used books).

    It’s been a few years since I went to the trouble to drive to that bookstore (a B&N). While it was definitely a Book Store then, I didn’t see any books worth the trouble of driving there. If it was in ebook format, I likely already had it.

    Of course, why drive 45 minutes to a bookstore when I can order the dead-tree version from Amazon. 😉

    As for B&N’s online bookstore, IMO B&N basically destroyed their online bookstore. 😦

    1. Aye. A few years ago I looked on-line to see if B&N had the book I was after. The site indicated “yes” but evidently that was “Yes, B&N has it. The local store you’re asking about.. we’ll be nonspecific if not lying.” 20 to 30 miles late, the store didn’t have it, but could get it… but I was out of state and sending it to me would be another fee… and my ‘local’ B&N is a 60 mile trip. The next morning, still in my robe, I placed an order through Amazon. I’ve not been back to a B&N since. And even that time it was “I recall when these places sold books.” Sure, they had some… but more and more they look like a cable company that only carries ABC, CBS, NBC, and maybe PBS if the weather is just right.

      1. Oh wise Ox, they’ve done that to me as well. After the third time of falling for the good ole bait and switch, I talked with the manager. Not that it did any good. So, nope, I have no inclination to return.

    2. The last time I was in a Barnes & Noble was just before I left California in 2003. A web search shows that there’s one in Medford, but beyond a handful of dead-tree books bought locally, it’s been Amazon, and lately, strictly Kindle. A good chunk of my fiction reading time is found in medical waiting rooms, and paper books are clunk, while the 8.9″ Fire is just plain handy.

      FWIW, Tandy sells a tablet case kit that just fits that Kindle, though I had to use webbing straps the first few times it was in there. It’s still snug, but it protects the electronics fairly well.

    3. > mostly used books

      After all the bookstores pulled out of my area, those followed a few years later. Can’t do much of a business selling used books once the supply line dies upstream…

      Hm.. That would suggest that books bought online tend not to get to used book stores. [thinks] That would apply 100% to me, anyway.

    4. It’s hard to destroy something they never really had. Their online store has never been easy to navigate and find anything, etc. One thing you can say about them–they have mastered how to get behind and stay behind.

  7. B&N will either find their niche or die as a brick and mortar store. But I think they are seriously missing the boat regarding on-line e-book sales. Sure the Nook is problematical, but it uses the epub format. Guess who provides an epub reader native on all their platforms, Apple that’s who. And not just their computers and tablets, but that ubiquitous device the iPhone as well. You know, that funny gadget super glued to the hand of every millennial in creation.
    Amazon only sells e-books in their proprietary azw format while the public open source version mobi will also work on Kindle or the Kindle app on other devices. To their credit Amazon provides that Kindle app for numerous devices free of charge, but it can have issues on some platforms.
    Perhaps the best on line e-book selling site is the Baen Webscription store. They offer books in a handful of formats, and once purchased you can download in any format at no further charge. Unfortunately they only sell Baen published books, and are further hamstrung by an agreement with Amazon not to undercut Amazon’s pricing, so their monthly bundles go off sale upon day of release.

  8. There are basically two bookstores left in my area. A third, a beloved local institution, closed not long after I moved here 😦

    One is a B&N. I’ve been three times. It’s … kind of depressing. The place is nearly deserted. I walk to the SF&Fantasy section. Old favorites, yes … but I have those already. Good to see Heinlein & Niven always stay in print. A few titles, or book covers, catch my eye, but the laudatory quotes on the jacket don’t’ seem to be from anyone I’ve heard of; the blurb at the front doesn’t seem all that interesting. The new authors tend not to be anyone I’ve heard of.

    The other is (probably thankfully for my declining storage space), a fair drive away. Clearly independent. Closed three times I tried to go there. When open, books on tall shelves. Comfortable chairs. A cat. Head back to the SF section; filled with authors I’ve heard of, but books I haven’t read. (Come to think of it, I still have that Hal Clement “Natives of Space” left unread from the last trip….). The old classics are in plastic bags but you can take them out and leaf through them, the newer stuff is not. I rarely walk out without 8 or more books, and the only reason I don’t go more often is that right now, my technical reading is crowding out all my reading for pleasure.

    As for new authors, I now mostly hear of them word-of-mouth; someone I know tells me about them, or I hear about them here, or on Sarah’s blog. I happen to like paperbacks because I have a shelf storage problem. Do I find those at either local bookstore? I do not. So I go to Amazon.

    Of course for e-books (which aren’t my first choice, but I certainly buy my share), why would you buy them from anyone other than Amazon? I’ve tried getting them from Baen direct, but there’s several extra steps, and it’s no cheaper. I hear there are other publishers, but I can’t recall the last time I wanted a fiction book that didn’t have Baen on the cover. (And that’s certainly a last 10 or 20 year thing — a lot of my older favorites say Ace, or Pocket Books, or Tor, or Del Rey, or Ballantine, or Berkeley).

    I don’t know how far I’m typical, but it doesn’t feel so much like “Amazon killed things” as “Amazon took a step forward while everyone else took several steps back”

      1. But they’ve been trying to commit suicide for many years, since long before Amazon! (Examples too many for a comment; I posted some of the worst.) I think we could at least credit Amazon with assisted suicide.

    1. Back when Baen was doing five new releases a month through Webscriptions for fifteen bucks that was part of my regular monthly budget. These days the price is eighteen bucks and I rarely see two in any given month that I’d care to buy. On those occasions when there are two or more I’ll still buy, but instead of monthly it’s become perhaps three times a year. Otherwise I’ll go with Amazon and either read on my Kindle, or convert to epub for my Mac.

  9. I don’t think I’ve been inside an actual physical bookstore for… well over 10 years. For me, the reason is e-books and my Kindle. Nothing can compare with the convenience of being able to just click and have the book in front of me in literally seconds, at any time of the day or night. To me, bookstores belong in the past, like browsing the racks of CDs at a Virgin megastore.

    Admittedly, an additional factor for me is that I hate shopping and cities and crowds. Apparently some people actually *like* ambling around the shops as a hobby/social activity… if that’s the audience B&N et al. are trying to reach, then I guess it makes sense to put the “lifestyle” stuff, the coffee shop, the gifts and stationery, etc. front and centre, making an attractive space for people to hang out in and browse. But if those people aren’t actually interested in buying books…

    1. One more thought. One of the thing that I’ll notice in some indie bookstores (Powell’s, but I’ve seen it other places), is little handwritten notes on the shelves for some of the books. A little intro, a reason you might like it, ‘if you like author X you will love this”, that kind of thing. Maybe they come from HQ, maybe they come from the people who stock the shelves, but they’re a very welcome thing and one of the reasons I like shopping there. Never see that in the chains.

  10. Here in Canaduh, Chapters/Indigo is the Big Chain. There aren’t really any others left, that I know of.

    The center of all the Chapters stores is merch. Pillows, cups, random stuff. Some nice, some Chinesium. All expensive. Nieman Marcus type things.

    Around the sides of the store are books. No particular effort made to promote new work, or Canadian Content [shudder]. The New Releases rack doesn’t have new releases in it, it has stuff from 6 months ago because they don’t update it.

    The science fiction section is two (2) racks. My complaints are known, I will not repeat them here.

    But the new renovation, that probably cost over a million bucks? It is really nice. The Starbucks is crowded with people… who are not reading.

    This is exactly the same scenario as the B&N at Chandler Mall in Chandler AZ, (Phoenix basically) lots of merch, the books are an afterthought, and there are two employees. One at the back cash, one at the front cash. That’s it for the store. They are minimum wage cashiers, they know -nothing- about the books.

    Generally speaking, I expect Chapters to follow B&N down the drain fairly soon. Canada is ~10% the size of the USA, roughly equivalent to New York or California for a retail chain.

    Retail generally is suffering the same problems though, because people will buy on-line for a two dollar saving on a $50 item. Volume pricing from distributors and shippers makes a huge difference, as does RENT for retail stores. The rents in Ontario are astronomical, I would go so far as to say they approach usurious.

    There’s no way a small-scale coffee-shop/bookstore could survive in the present environment, unless they already own the building they’re in and the owner works the shop. Between taxes, wages and rents, there’s not enough margin there. Add on-line competition, you get Ontario.

    I know two independednt bookstores, one is The Labyrinth in Oakville on Trafalgar Road, they sell art books, comics and nerd-merch. The other is Bakka Phoenix in Toronto, all SF/F books, a little bit of nerd-merch. Comic stores are still hanging on somehow, despite the efforts by Marvel and DC to kill them all in a suicide pact.

    This is the market I’m trying to sell a new book into. I must be out of my f-ing mind. ~:D Don’t care, doing it anyway!!!

  11. Alan Bourgeois, who is the head of the Texas Association of Authors had a meet and greet last month with the top rank of Barnes &Noble – a meeting for which he had some hopes. I’ll just copy and paste the email update that Alan sent to the membership, covering the results of that meeting – which were disappointing. B&N doesn’t “get” indy authors – they’re still pursuing the chimera of Big Publishing.

    Barnes & Noble Meeting with Tim Mantel, Temp. CEO
    In May of this year, I had sent out a letter to the then CEO of Barnes & Noble expressing a lot of frustrations that Indie Authors were facing with their bookstore chain. I was surprised to receive a request from the corporate office to meet with the CEO and even after the change in leadership, I was once again confirmed for the meeting that took place last week.

    It was an interesting meeting that left me feeling a mixed bag of emotions. More importantly, it showed me that once again Indie Authors are being ignored by the company whose business is based on selling books. It is very possible that I was expecting more from them, but comments made during the meeting indicated that they are part of the ‘snobs’ of publishing that do not need to support indie authors and their books.

    This snobbish concept that we have all seen and been a victim of from libraries, fellow authors and bookstores is the key aspect that is actually B&N them in the long term. I agree that when Indie Authors/Self-Publishing began, there was a lot of bad works being released, and I sadly admit that I was one of them. What I know now for writing vs when I first started out is like night and day and I trust my new works coming out next year will illustrate that.

    There are still bad works being released, but that is a small percentage compared to the great body of work that Authors are producing. If anything, Indie Authors are leading the charge in producing good quality work and not some of the trash that the top 5 have been promoting over the past few years. I will not name some of the reality stars or social media personalities that have been published over the years for we all know how trashy it is. However, I will admit that there is a lot of good work that also comes out from the top five, but that gets little to no marketing dollars as the trash does. Again, an aspect that is hurting all of us on many levels. Politics aside, Barnes & Noble wants to put most of its marketing vision into the top five than in the Indie Authors that can bring them back from collapse.

    B&N’s actions or lack of actions towards Indie Authors only sends us to other web sites and bookstores that actually want to support us. This alone will be the nail in the coffin for B&N in a few years times if they do not change their actions.

    While B&N does have their Authors Nook program, this is for a very small number of authors and not a significant enough of authors to keep them alive. Just like Amazon’s publishing arm, they feel that by offering their authors special programs that only their authors can receive is enough to keep the author and grow in prestige. It is just a false advertising program that makes them more money while giving false hope to Indie Authors. It is pure marketing BS plain and simple.

    Texas is not only a large state by land mass, but also by the diversity that lends itself to a wide variety of creative expression in many arts programs, and more specifically to the writing world. We have over 100 writing organizations in the state and we produce more Best-Selling Authors then many other states close to our population size or land mass size. We should not be ignored and considered as a second class.

    B&N has agreed to be more active with our DEAR Texas event in April, but that was all they were willing to consider and participate in. Instead, they acted as if they heard me and our authors concerns, but only time will truly show if they care enough to make changes that benefit Indie Authors on many levels.

    Bottom line was that they wanted to leave control of the stores in the hands of the managers. This included who they would allow doing book signings in their stores. One of the major issues that Indie Authors have is each store will do things completely different and have opposing views on who can do a book signing. I understand the need to present works that benefit their local community, but some of the issues we addressed were a lot more problematic than just selecting authors.

    Maybe it’s time for B&N to relocate their corporate offices to a more cost-effective community like Texas instead of wasting money on expensive rents, overpaid high salaries, etc., that NYC represents. And maybe it’s also time for their board to consider adding a team of Indie Authors from various backgrounds to be a consulting team to help B&N survive and change to better serve their community of authors and readers. Just my two cents worth.

    I will keep the membership aware of any changes that B&N makes, including any outreach they present over the next few months.

  12. And you just know that B&N had to have spent some serious money on layout experts to get to that kind of fail.

  13. I walk into B&N wanting to buy something, and almost always leave disappointed.

    I have every book that they sell already, and there isn’t anything new I want to get. Their gaming section is one set of shelves. Outside of Baen Books, all of the new sci-fi reads like Baby’s First Fanfic, the comic book section isn’t even worth mentioning, the manga section is either all shrink-wrapped, or so bland as to be boring.

    Don’t even get me started on music, “popular” or otherwise.

    Somebody needs to tell them, “get stuff that people want to buy!”, because that’s the way you get people to buy stuff.

  14. We used to go ‘browse’ a B&N or Borders and leave, spending a hundred dollars or more to get out the door. Now we don’t anymore, because books have been replaced with trinkets, kitsch, CDs and DVDs.

    I’m sorry, but ‘browsing’ on Amazon in that fashion isn’t the same.

  15. Labor costs are always going to be the biggest chunk of a company’s overhead, and online shopping allows customers to use a minimal overhead sales channel. Does this mean that no one is going to shop in a brick and mortar store at all?

    No, but it does mean that the added overhead of an in-person sales staff has to be worth paying for, in the perception of the customer. Reducing sales staff and paying them less is not going to allow physical locations to compete with online retailers in terms of price, and removes the one advantage (personal and knowledgeable service) that physical retailers have over a website.

    Recently for work I went to a local hardware big box store. We tend to pick up things there only when we need them right away and can’t wait for shipping, but even so we probably drop 10 to 20 grand a year at that store. This last time I needed one item that was out of stock on the shelf. I could see two wrapped pallets of the item on upper shelves, but I couldn’t get it without assistance of a store employee. (Well, okay, I wasn’t supposed to. I could have hijacked one of their forklifts, but I would have got in trouble for it.)

    It took the store nearly three-quarters of an hour to get the item I wanted onto the shelf where I could get it. I went to a cashier station (the only place you can find an employee) and said exactly what I wanted and the aisle and bay it was in. After twenty minutes an employee wandered by, said “Oh… that’s going to need a forklift” (which I had told the cashier) and wandered off again.

    Two other employees came by, neither making any attempt to conceal their annoyance at being asked to do work at a customer’s behest, before finally I found the one person who seemed to actually care, who went and fetched a lift and got me the product that I wanted.

    I’m old enough to remember when that store opened, and how it established a reputation for having a large, well-paid and well-trained staff to assist customers in buying the right tool or part for the job. In their effort to compete with online sources (which they don’t–the commercial suppliers have much better websites in terms of item information and ease of ordering) they have gotten rid of the one thing that made them a major retailer in the first place.

    What I have seen of chain bookstores is the same. Rather than having a staff who can suggest sell books and anticipate customer needs, they staff their stores with low-paid, no benefit, part time employees who don’t care about customers and will be working at some other store a week after this one closes.

    1. Sounds like what happened a couple of years ago when our dryer went out. I did some quick research to find a model that looked like it would fit our needs and was in the price range I was willing to pay. A little more searching and discovered both big box hardware stores (dueling chains) had it at basically the same price. We decided to go to the once closest to us. We got there and walked up to the appropriate department. No other customers were present. I could see three employees (at least, it may have been four) sitting at their desks. Three were talking together. One was on the phone. Not one of them made eye contact. Not one of them said they would be with us shortly. We waited. And waited. And waited. Another couple walked up wanting help and faced the same problem. I finally approached the nearest employee who basically continued to annoy me. Even after going to the front of the store and asking for help, we continued to be ignored. Yep, we left after 15 minutes and they not only lost the sale of that item but all future business.

      Went down the road to their competitor. Found a very busy department with all assistants helping other customers. Even so, as soon as we walked up, one of the workers apologized and asked if we minded waiting just a few moments. Then she called for more workers to come help in the section. That was a point in their favor. Another point, they got to us within five minutes, had the dryer we wanted and at a better price than advertised. They are further from the house and it is a pain to get there right now due to construction, but they have earned our business by having caring, knowledgeable workers.

  16. These executives running B&N… Did anyone ask any of them how many books they read last year and why they picked them and if they enjoyed them? If I could get a truthful insider I’d put a big chunk of change on a bet for NO. I’d risk $1k easily. Similar to grocery store executives who haven’t done their own food shopping in decades and sporting goods executives who wouldn’t TOUCH an evil black rifle and have never gone where they might get a mosquito bite since college. I also suspect fast food executives have never visited one of their stores at random and choked down a burger. Their visits are after a week of cleaning up the place, giving the angry counter person with an attitude the day off and paying the stinky homeless bum $20 to go across the street to a competitor.

  17. This is essentially the same set-up (except for the nook stuff) that the Union Square B&N has had since the late 90s – when I used to live in the area. Every time I go… little has changed in the set up.

    I used to hit both this B&N and the Strand a few blocks down – and buy loads of books. Again, back in about 1998.

    I bet the Strand still does good business. They’ve got unique offerings, and every time I take my girls into the city, they care more to visit the Strand than the B&N. I used to take the kids to the Danbury, CT B&N when we went out shopping, but they don’t care anymore. They still love books, but the B&N just doesn’t have the stuff they want. They get it from the library or Amazon now.

  18. I’m on a forum with a bunch of former Borders employees and the general consensus is “oh hey, we’ve seen this behavior before.” With countdown predictions. The death knell for Borders—many years in advance of the public event—was when corporate took control of the stores away from the managers. They centralized ordering, mandated signage, and basically took away every bit of local knowledge that could be employed to advantage.

    And… that’s what’s been going on with B&N. A bookstore is not a grocery store, but they treat them as such.

  19. I used to really enjoy the all book, one floor, BN stores. Then they were all shut down and replaced with those mixed, two floors with a coffee shop thingies that were no fun at all. These days I stick to the kindle for everything but technical books, not least because my eyes aren’t what they were and big text makes reading much more pleasant.

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