Once again, come the predictions of the end of Barnes and Noble. Even with the end of Borders, B&N has had troubles, with many laying the blame at the foot of Amazon and its Kindle-led e-book revolution.
As usual, it is never quite that simple.
I’ve seen many bookstores pop up in former Borders locations. Amazon is a great place to shop for books, and is the legend of internet commerce, but its profit margin isn’t all that high [And since I first wrote this, Amazon has begun to open stores, seeing the profitability in them. Indie bookstores have seen strong growth. Who says no one buys real books?]. Ironically, B&N stores compete against e-books — all the while pushing its Nook reader — and its own website. All stores have websites, that isn’t the only problem. B&N does make money, if in decreasing fashion. It can survive, if it reinvents itself. That is, it will if it gets back to the basics it began with:
Become known as the local neighborhood bookseller, rather than the national chain bookstore.
The suggestions below are the same I made about a year ago. To these I add this: Forget the Nook. Let Amazon and Apple and all the others have it. E-books are here to stay, but be the old-fashioned bookstore. Be the specialty store. Paper books will never disappear. They are timeless and durable. Just like we treasure ancient tomes, so will the future want ours. And these:
1. Make that regional and local book section more prominent. Expand it. Make your store the one stop place for anyone looking for local authors and books on area subjects.
2. Ditch the cafes. Never stepped foot in one. You’re a bookstore. Yes, there are people who like to hang out in them, so farm them out to someone else. Get out of the food business. [Update: I have since “stepped foot” in the cafe once or twice. Not bad, but just not what I’m looking for when I go in a bookstore.]
3. Indie books and indie presses have grown rapidly in recent years. E-books are their main outlet because they still operate outside traditional distribution networks. Change this. Get their books in your stores.
4. Ditch the music and movie section. If e-commerce has hurt book sales, it has done more so for these other two. Save a spot for local artists, toss the rest. [Update: I realize that there has since been growth in vinyl records, which B&N sells. Good, sell them, but don’t bank on this or that fad (like adult coloring books). Fads come and go. Address them, but they can’t be at the core of your business.]
5. Enough of the $20 membership fee. Virtually no one charges for their loyalty cards.
6. Keep cutting unprofitable stores, but don’t pass up chances to open new, smaller stores in areas with a bookstore vacuum.
7. The kids area, the learning toy section and the games area are the best non-book items you have. They are better quality than what we find in department stores. But how many people know you sell this stuff? Your kids book section blows everyone — even Wal-Mart — away. Tell people. [And remove the toys that others have at cheaper prices. We all love Legos, but you can’t compete. Hobby board games are huge, your hobby board game section is great, but too small.]
8. Overall, your selection, style, arrangement and size of stores isn’t bad. Use your strengths as a national chain, but operate like a local store. Each market is different. Be able to respond and provide at an individual store level. Let them know that you are there. Host events more regularly. Be a destination.
Be like the stores of old. Books will never die, nor do you have to.