Dear Barnes & Noble,
On behalf of all authors, we want to see your company grow and succeed. Amazon needs a legitimate competitor in order to limit their dominance and create a healthier publishing ecosystem. It is important for your bookstores to thrive and expand.
Your organization’s new CEO, James Daunt, made headlines by turning around the Waterstones bookstore chain in England. Now, he wants to apply a similar strategy in America by redecorating every store, reducing the amount of returns, and giving each store manager greater power over their local inventory.
However, I recently visited a Barnes & Noble location near Atlanta, Georgia. What I saw didn’t give me much optimism about the future.
The store layout looked no different than before. The same bestseller displays were in the same place. The green carpet appeared worn and dirty. A skeleton crew was manning the room. There was too much space dedicated to music, movies, toys, and dumb knick-knacks.
In addition, the BN.com website doesn’t look much different than before. It still seems light years behind Amazon’s website experience.
In other words, where is the dramatic transformation that was promised? During the coronavirus shutdown, CEO Daunt reported that the downtime was used to reface the company. I don’t see any improvements, which gives me and other authors concern about your viability.
If you want to turn the company around, focus less on cosmetic changes or letting managers choose what books to buy. That’s you looking at yourself. Instead, focus on the customer. Improve the buying experience for readers and serve the needs of authors. For example, the following four steps could make a big difference:
1. Improve your website
B&N.com is at a distinct disadvantage to Amazon primarily due to a lackluster website. More books are purchased online than in stores. So, if you want to grow, you’ve got to capture more online sales.
Frankly, B&N’s website feels like walking into a boring library. Compared to Amazon, there is a tiny fraction of customer reviews to read. Most of a book’s marketing text is hidden or pushed down the page. Worst of all, B&N charges different prices for the same book.
On a recent B&N visit to purchase a business-genre book, the on-shelf price was $7 higher than your website price. That’s a ridiculous disconnect and creates skepticism among savvy consumers. Charge the same price for books, whether purchased online or in-store.
2. Offer marketing partnerships for authors
Want to know a hidden reason why Amazon is crushing B&N? Author favoritism. Every day, authors directly send millions of their fans to Amazon, instead of you. Consider how many authors only mention Amazon on their websites, e-newsletters, blogs, and social media pages. B&N is never mentioned. When you consider the millions of links that authors create for their fans to buy books, it represents millions of dollars in lost sales for B&N.
Why are authors partial to Amazon? For several reasons, such as Amazon offers a robust advertising platform just for authors. Amazon gives self-published authors the best royalty rates and provides extra income for writers who make their e-books exclusive to KDP Select. Amazon even lets authors adjust their book detail page whenever they want for free. B&N doesn’t offer authors any of these features.
Convince authors to stop showing favoritism by developing innovative marketing opportunities. For example, create an affiliate program with generous commission rates and hassle-free technical support. Build an online advertising system that any author can afford. Make it easier for authors to host in-store events that you help promote to the community. Authors will become part of your sales force – if you start meeting our needs.
3. Advertise where readers congregate
Speaking of advertising, we all know that B&N can’t afford to build a lot of new stores. But, you can afford to set up inexpensive kiosks where thousands of readers regularly congregate. For example, place book kiosks in 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. You could also set up small kiosks in hotels, concert halls, sports arenas, etc.
Each kiosk could offer curated titles related to the movie or event that people are attending. In addition, the kiosks would provide effective advertising that reminds people B&N still exists and is relevant to their lifestyle.
4. Cut the cafe crap and just sell books
Let’s be honest. Please stop trying to add wine bars, coffee shops, or taverns inside your stores. Those ideas failed along with the disastrous Nook e-reader device. All you’re doing is distracting people from your core concept.
Just focus on selling books. Get rid of the music, cafe, and DVD sections. Use that square footage to increase more space for books. It’s hard to call yourself a bookstore when half of the room seems devoted to non-reading activities. People would rather go somewhere else to get coffee, somewhere else to buy music, and somewhere else to drink wine. Become a great bookstore experience that readers cannot resist.
Seriously, Barnes & Noble, all authors really do want you to succeed. Deep down, everyone is a little scared of Amazon. The industry can’t survive without healthy competition. You have the opportunity to make bookstores fun again. You have the opportunity to create a better book-buying experience online.
Consider the millions of authors who could start telling their fans to buy from Barnes & Noble, instead of Amazon.
We are waiting for you to give us a good reason to do just that…
P.S. – Unless Amazon’s dominance is challenged, they will continue to rule over the publishing industry. Therefore, if you’re an author who wants to sell more books, you must learn how to increase sales on their website.
My online course, Mastering Amazon for Authors, is designed to help you excel in this area. The course is currently closed to new students, but it will reopen this Fall. Space is limited. Click here to email me and request a spot on my waiting list.
And, hopefully someday it will be worthwhile to create an online course called, Mastering Barnes & Noble for Authors.