Tuesday, July 2, 2013

B&Ns Struggle to Be Relevant & Competitive: UR Doing It Wrong

One of my writing buddies sent me this article:

One Reason Barnes & Noble is Struggling: It's Carrying Fewer Titles

For anyone who has been in to a B&N store, this is not news. For any author who has been a causality of the Simon & Schuster vs B&N contract squabble, this is laughable. The article cites B&N's CEO Klipper as refuting the assertion that they're carrying fewer titles. If Klipper truly believes that then he is a victim of Ivory Tower Syndrome where front-line actuals are condensed and massaged up through the layers of management so many times that the numbers set before the executives running the company in no way resemble the front-lines' reports.

Every week my social media streams are hit with the same complaint: "I went to the store to buy a book. They didn't have it but offered to order it for me. I can do that for myself without having to trek back to the store. Why would I go back there?"

Everybody in the industry is quick to blame Amazon, which is sad because it means they've all failed Business 101. Lots of industries sell the same products, in those industries the formula is simple:

Inventory + Price + Convenience = Sales

If B&N doesn't feel the overhead of maintaining stores allows them to be price-competitive with Amazon, then they need to match them on inventory and beat them at convenience. Storefronts will always defeat online retailers with instant delivery of tangible products as long as those products are on hand. 

But, but, but Amazon has millions of titles available.

Yeah. And? Why don't the stores? Physical space? Try again. For B&N and any other bookstore, their success lies on the path of literal printing-on-demand paperback-quality books. The technology is there, the Espresso machines are available. Any book available in 5-10 mins and the business doesn't have to sacrifice floor space.

Instant Gratification Wins Customers

Somewhere along the way brick and mortar bookstores lost sight of their customers' need for instant gratification. Their business strategies now focus on diversity. First it was cafes, something to compliment the book-reading experience. When that didn't correct their P&Ls, puzzle books gave way to actual puzzles, which have been surrounded by plushies and DIY snot shooters. 

Turning a bookstore into ToysRUs is a long-term business strategy failure. Bookstores like B&N are focusing on one type of consumer -- the harried parent. More specifically, moms, because moms still wield the purchasing power of a household. Yes, children's books sell and sell well. The chaos inherent to a children's store does not. Unless B&N plans on adopting IKEA's day-care strategy, they need to return their stores to fulfilling their consumers' core need: instant gratification.

The technology is there to make brick and mortar bookstores successful once again. It's not rocket-science. It's business and it's time to get back to it.


  1. B&N should probably also make it attractive to self-published authors, too. It's frustrating when I want to support an author friend and their book is not at B&N (or it's only at Amazon).

    My fear is if B&N fails, Amazon becomes a monopoly, and then they can do whatever the heck they want to authors. But only B&N can fix B&N. I hope they do it soon.

  2. Yes! I agree. If the store-fronts adopt the print-on-site concept, there's no reason they can't tap into the increasing number of non-NYC published books. Whether small press, digital press, or self-pub, the key is using technology to make their inventory limitless.