Most readers of my blog know that Amazon is the dominant bookseller and that I run a popular online course called Mastering Amazon for Authors. Yet, a major reason why Amazon is so successful is the lack of competition. For example, the Borders bookstore chain went bankrupt in 2011. Family Bookstores suffered a similar fate in 2015. Then there’s Barnes & Noble, a company with declining sales, falling stock price, and a leadership team that continues to make bumbling decisions.
Two weeks ago, Barnes & Noble fired their CEO, Demos Parneros, on grounds that he violated company policies. Parneros had only been on the job for 16 months. His predecessor, Ron Boire, didn’t even last a full year. B&N is now searching for their fifth CEO in 5 years! There’s no way a company can make progress when top leadership changes so frequently. B&N represents the only serious competition to Amazon. Yet, they continue to shoot themselves in the foot.
We should all hope the next CEO that B&N hires is someone who will last a long time and bring a vision for success. The publishing industry desperately needs stronger players. From my perspective, I hope B&N will take these four steps to save their future:
1. Improve the B&N.com website experience
B&N is at a distinct disadvantage to Amazon primarily due to their lackluster website. More books are purchased online than in stores. So, if you want to grow, you’ve got to capture more online book sales. Frankly, B&N’s website feels like walking into a boring library. There are hardly any customer reviews to read. The book marketing text is pushed to the bottom of the page. Dumbest of all, B&N charges different prices for the same book. Buying a book online can be significantly cheaper than the in-store price. That difference creates a skeptical disconnect with savvy consumers. Charge the same price for books purchased online and in the stores.
2. Put book kiosks where readers congregate
B&N cannot afford to build a lot of new stores. But, they can afford to setup inexpensive kiosks where thousands of readers congregate every day. A prime example is movie theaters. Almost every movie comes from a book. And, movies are big drivers of book sales, because people want to read the original story. B&N could set up small kiosks at movie theaters, concert halls, arenas, etc. Each kiosk could offer curated titles related to the movie or event people are seeing. In addition, the kiosks would provide effective advertising and remind people that B&N is relevant and still exists.
3. Improve marketing partnerships with authors
Another reason why Amazon crushes B&N is due to author partiality. There are thousands of authors who only list Amazon as the retailer to buy their books on their websites, newsletters, blogs, and social media pages. B&N is never mentioned. When you consider the millions of links to buy books that authors create over the course of a year, that’s millions of dollars in sales directed solely to Amazon. This partiality isn’t always on purpose. It’s just a fact of convenience and market share that Amazon offers.
B&N needs to get authors back in their corner. This will be difficult to achieve unless they develop innovative marketing opportunities. For example, offer an affiliate program with generous commission rates and hassle-free technical setup. Offer dirt-cheap online advertising opportunities that any author can afford. Make in-store author events a higher priority. Authors can become part of your sales force if you meet their needs.
4. Cut the wine bar crap and get back to basics
B&N has tried a plethora of ridiculous experiments to improve their stores. Their big announcement last year was adding wine bars to some stores. That idea failed along with peddling music and launching the disastrous Nook e-reader device. All the while, annual sales are still declining.
Go back to basics and focus on selling books. Get rid of the music and DVD departments. Use that square footage to increase more book titles for sale. It’s hard to call yourself a bookstore when half of the room is devoted to other products. People are more apt to go online (to Amazon) when a brick and mortar store doesn’t stock the titles they are hoping to buy.
I want to see Barnes & Noble succeed. You should want them to succeed, too. The industry can’t survive without healthy competition. Let’s hope their new CEO can turn around the company and save it from disaster. If that happens, I’ll be the first to create an online course called “Mastering Barnes & Noble for Authors.”
P.S. – Amazon’s dominance over the publishing industry will certainly continue to grow. If you want to sell more books, you must learn how to increase sales on their website. My online course, Mastering Amazon for Authors, is specifically designed to help you excel in this area. The course is currently closed to new students, but will be re-opening this Fall. Click here to ask to join my waiting list.
Melissa G Wilson says
Rob so glad to see you weighing in here. I would add that part of a getting-back-to-basics plan should include setting up facilitated book discussions. The staff could be the facilitators and from that better, more deep experience of sharing one book’s content, readers could get turned on to new books.
It’s akai a social experience that will yield people new friends and, from there, more desire for further connection with one another and also more book discussions.
We are social creatures. This type of ongoing participative book discussion would draw readers who buy in constantly. I’m not recommending book clubs, although those would emerge, but rather constant, new book discussions that would be staff facilitated.