Home/Books/10 Ways to Save Barnes & Noble

10 Ways to Save Barnes & Noble

Dear Barnes & Noble,

When you announced the resignation of your C.E.O. and Nook failure, some may have called it the beginning of your end. Idea Logical’s Mike Shatzkin said you could only hope to “make the slide into oblivion more gradual.” But take note: not everyone is so pessimistic about your future. The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki argued that print books are still “an exceptionally good piece of technology—easy to read, portable, durable, and inexpensive,” and he referenced Codex Group findings that 97 percent of those who read e-books are still “wedded to print.”

So perhaps you aren’t a dying relic after all, and merely need some revamping. Over the past several days, commentators have burst forth with a cacophony of competing ideas for your revival. The following list contains some potentially promising options for you to consider:

#1.Just be a bookstore.
Rather than trying to reinvent yourself, you should “focus on something truly radical: being a bookstore.”
– James Surowiecki, The New Yorker

#2. Cultivate your ‘secret sauce’: the serendipitous experience of discovery.
Add opportunity for discovery by using more tables than bookshelves. “Physical discovery is the secret sauce of retailing and publishing.”
– Simon Lipskar, Writers House, Wall Street Journal

Create “a special mix of smart curation and easy browsing” with new-arrival bookshelves and interesting sections, to build the serendipitous experience.
– Virginia Postrel, Bloomberg

#3. Hire happy, friendly nerds.
Hire people “with the express intention of making them booksellers, not team members or employees who aren’t excited about what they’re selling.”
– Jason Diamond, Flavorwire

#4. Create more ‘destination activities.’
Create an environment that people want to visit: “That means more destination activities, such as book groups, author readings.”
– Gerald Storch, Target, Inc., Wall Street Journal

#5. Transform bookstores into subscription showrooms.
Separate “the discovery and atmospheric value” of your store from the traditional “book-warehousing” model. Make stores smaller, with inventory limited to “examination copies — one copy per title.” Charge a daily, monthly, or annual membership that allows customers “to hang out, browse the shelves, buy snacks and use the Wi-Fi.”
– Virginia Postrel, Bloomberg

#6. Become a mini-mall.
Turn each store into a “mini-mall,” with each category leased to an “expert in that particular category.” You act as a systems integrator, “putting together a multi-category offering that attracts sufficient customers into the mini-mall.”
– Roger Martin, Harvard Business Review

#7. Downsize your image.
Create a “community franchise,” like Washington, D.C.’s Ace Hardware stores: “The owner names each of them after its neighborhood, but the small chain benefits from the buying power and branding of a national distribution network.”
– Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

#8. Give customers better discounts.
You can draw a regular customer base through rewards, “such as a discount for volume shopping, bundling, and help in ordering alternative formats if a book isn’t in the store.”
– Peter Olson, Random House, Wall Street Journal

If you have to sell those e-readers, commoditize them: “Barnes & Noble should give them away: Buy one for $50 and get a $50 credit.”
– Rick Schottenfeld, Bloomberg Businessweek

#9. Become more hipster, like Starbucks.
If you don’t want to look like a mean “big business” crushing indie bookstores, a la You’ve Got Mail, try Starbucks’ method of “downplaying their corporate branding in bigger markets.”
– Jason Diamond, Flavorwire

#10. Smell like chocolate. Or Lavender.
Bookstore patrons who smell chocolate while browsing are “twice as likely to look at multiple books closely” and “nearly three times as likely to interact with personnel and ask questions after browsing the whole store.” If you don’t like chocolate, try lavender: studies show its relaxing smell “may lower heart rates of shop patrons, making them more relaxed and thus more likely to buy something without thinking too hard about it.”
– Olivia B. Waxman, TIME

While these suggestions range from modest to radical, they share a unanimous theme: people still like you. They don’t want you to close your doors just yet. So try something interesting, daring, or perhaps just a little old-fashioned. Surowiecki is right: stick to what you’re good at. Don’t try turning yourself into a digital store. Instead, maximize your strengths: build a comfortable, nostalgic ethos. Try making your stores more personalized and local—perhaps build a community library vibe with fun events. Hire people who actually read books, and who love talking about them. And for the record, if you started selling more chocolate, we would buy it.

about the author

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and journalist located outside Washington, D.C. In addition to The American Conservative, she has written for The Washington Times, the Idaho Press Tribune, The Federalist, and Acculturated. Follow Gracy on Twitter @GracyOlmstead.

leave a comment

Latest Articles