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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

12 Ways Barnes & Noble Can Stop Losing Money – And Win The Book Market Back!



When people hire the publicity firm that I work for, they often tell us they want a public relations firm that has experience not only in promoting books, but in their specific genre.  Makes sense.  They want to feel we understand them and have relevant experience.  So why does Barnes & Noble, America’s last-standing large bookstore chain continue to hire CEOs from outside the book industry?

Barnes & Noble just announced it was appointing Demos Parneros, a top executive at Staples, to become it’s fourth chief executive officer since 2013.  The company is underperforming, to say the least.

After the Great Recession, the collapse of Borders, and the establishment of a digital book market, B&N is in bad shape compared to its competitors.  While the American Booksellers Association notes that independent bookstores increased in number by more than 25% from 2010 to 2016, and Amazon continues to grow, B&N keeps announcing store closings and profit shrinkage.

Earnings for the third quarter of B&N show an 8% decline in sales, to 1.3 billion dollars, compared to a year ago.  Sales of its failing digital content and devices fell 25%, to $38.4 million.  After closing another 7 stores, B&N has gone from 720 in 2010 to 634 – a drop of more than 12%.  But print book sales have been reportedly up – industry wide – in each of the past several years, so why can’t B&N take advantage of this?

B&N, founded 131 years ago, is the last of the big bookstore chains standing.  It had wild growth in the 1980s, 90’s and early 21st century, led by superstores and locations in malls.  But that all came tumbling about a decade ago.  Amazon was getting more powerful, Borders was falling apart, and digital books were about to take off.  This was a critical time for B&N and it failed the test miserably.  Its Nook never took off.  As malls closed or shrunk, it just has never recovered.

But success starts at the top.  B&N has made terrible decisions regarding its choice of CEO.  It took someone who ran Sears, another failing old-time brand – Ronald Boire – and put him in a position to fail.  He didn’t even last a year on the job.  Now they selected a guy who rose to be the president of Staples North America, overseeing, 1800 stores and its online business.  But this guy knows nothing about books.

Born in Cyprus, he came to America and didn’t speak any English upon transferring into elementary school.  He reportedly has “virtually no experience in the business in the last few months,” says The New York Times.

To me, the solution is simple and all that Barnes & Noble needs to do is listen up and execute accordingly:

1. Hold events and author appearances at every single store, around the clock.  Many of the stores do not hold book signings nor do they hold many of them.  Take advantage, of your space and schedule authors all day and night.  The mornings can feature authors that appeal to parents of young children.  Lunch-time can be business authors or novelists.  The afternoons can be a mixture of topics.  The early evenings should appeal to the working class and late night can be a time for entertainment-oriented topics that appeal to teens, 20-30’s, and the singles class.  Turn the store into a community center and serve people well.

2. Find a way to collaborate with the self-publishing segment.  It’s a huge area that continues to grow.  Hold workshops that draw in authors.  Feature books about writing, editing, publishing, marketing, publicity, etc.  Further, give these authors a showcase for their POD books.  They are passionate, energized and hungry authors who will go out of their way to help sell books.

3. Market your store. The best way to do this is to advertise a store’s events, but it can also partner with local organizations, from schools to small businesses, and from non-profits to government agencies.  Go knocking on their doors.  Encourage them to visit the bookstore and to consider holding an event there. Let people register to vote at B&N – and then showcase political and social activism books.  Have a local business talk about what it does, such as, a home decorating store.  Charge them a fee.  Then sell books relating to decorating homes.  How hard is this to do???

4. Bring the stores to people. Have a book mobile from B&N circulate on busy street corners.  Talk to condo hi-rise buildings or big corporate towers about taking some lobby space for a day and showcase upcoming events, books, and store features.

5. If need be, give the Nook away.  They need to hook in new digital readers fast or they’ll always severely lag behind Amazon’s Kindle.  Once they have a faithful legion to sell digital content to, they can grow and build up.

6. Open more stores, especially in underserved areas.  Can’t B&N look at the census or demographic data and figure out a place like the Bronx should have a store, or that fast-growing population centers would benefit from having a B&N?

7. Sell more items in your store that serve a book-buying public.  Music, games, videos, stationery, pens, and the like are no-brainers.  But how about lamps, bookcases, and even some art work?  By selling other stuff, you increase your chance of selling something and create a little bit of a one-stop shoping experience for consumers.

8. Give out B&N swag.  Bags T-shirts, mugs, and other premiums could be sold with the B&N logo and a tagline, but I say just give it away.  Build up good will and greater visibility.  Don’t cheap out on something that could get you attention!

9. Learn from the independent bookstore.  How can B&N flounder with all of its resources and name recognition, while some hole-in-the-wall store on a side street eats its lunch?  The local indie makes sure it gives a personal touch to all interactions.  The owner is there and her staff is intelligent, well-trained, and dedicated.  The store listens to what its customers want.  The store has speakers and lets people feel it’s a piece of the community.  B&N needs to humanize its stores and the experience of a customer.

10. Encourage people to come in to your stores by giving something to those who are contributing.  For instance, celebrate great school grades with area schools.  Any kid who brings in a report card with at least a B+ average gets $5 off a book.  Anyone who brings a receipt showing they donated goods, or funds to charities that exceeds $100 gets a second book half-off with the purchase of another book.  If you volunteered to help improve literacy or make your world better, show up with a letter from the organization you helped and get a free iced tea from the café for your efforts.

11. Reach out to those who live and die with words – teachers, professors, librarians, linguists, tutors, speechwriters, editors – and encourage them to share fliers with their students, clients, or colleagues.  These fliers can offer discounts, list events, highlight great books, and be a plea to grow the reading community.

12. Have a little fun.  Invite kids to come dressed in their jammies for a book reading and nap session.  Have employees dress up as famous costumed book characters.  Invite people to meet a best-selling author and make suggestions of his or her next book.  Bring in amateur chefs and invite them to cook up and hand out food samples to shoppers.  Bring a juggler, clown or puppeteer to do a little show while talking about children’s books.  Have a makeover day, where beautician students come in to do free hair makeovers to anyone who buys a book on the subject matter.

I know running a store – let alone an aging sagging chain – has its challenges.  But it is mind-boggling to see that Barnes & Noble can’t seem to get back on its feet.  Maybe some of my suggestions are not so practical or cost effective, but some of them are no-brainers.  

B&N has nothing to lose in following them, for they’ve done everything imaginable to fail.

The book industry needs to grow and a central piece is Barnes & Noble.  America can’t allow its book giant to just fold up.  Even if B&N makes bad CEO choices and is top too stubborn to change its ways, we need to tell it that we want them to do better.

If you think my ideas are any good-or have your own to share-send them (and this blog post) to: bninc@bn.com or mail to: Barnes & Noble, 122 Fifth Avenue #2, NY, NY, 10011 Attn:  Founder & Chairman Leonard Riggio.  Or Tweet @LeonardRiggio.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 

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