Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How To Save Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble is struggling.  I don’t believe it’s all due to the Great Recession (which is behind us).  Nor is it all due to America’s love affair with e-books (almost 80% of all book sales come from print).  Nor do I think it’s because everyone shops on Amazon for everything, including books (as long as they are, they still fail to sell 7 out of every 10 in book sales).  No, B&N, the nation’s oldest and largest bookstore chain, now absent its long competitor (Borders left in 2011), is stumbling because it lacks vision, is stubborn to change, and is run by people who obviously don’t know what they are doing.

But their company is at stake – and so is the book industry.  They need to reverse course – and fast – or forever leave the book market lost in the desert.

So how does one save the bookstore without:
-          Taking on more debt
-          Taking costly risks
-          Destroying its brand
-          Shuttering stores or downsizing staff or curtailing hours
-          Raising prices or reducing inventories
-          Being conservative on which titles it is willing to carry
-          Alienating its loyal customers

1.      Ask for help. Encourage consumers to give feedback and suggestions by giving them something free in exchange for their opinions.

2.      Remember who you are and have always been.  There’s a long history to B&N and rightfully so.  It’s a solid brand and a pillar of many communities. It needs to act like it is an involved and caring partner.

3.      Improve customer service. Anyone can look crap up in a computer or punch a cash register but when the floor help can really find what people want, recommend books, or sound intelligent and resourceful, you have character and personality.

4.      Rearrange the store. Have some sections devoted not just to genres, but authors and publishers.  Why not have a few shelves dedicated to prolific and significant writers and book series?  Why not have a Penguin Random House section – and charge the publishers for it?

5.      Play up small presses, university presses, and self-published authors.  They produce a large quantity of titles, some of which are significant and unique.  Stores are a place of discoverability, so why not highlight the underdogs?

6.      Fix the Nook. Either build a better Nook that people want or leave the e-business.  Stop playing catch up.  Develop something that people want and that they can’t get anywhere else.

7.      Have a lunch and learn. Have an author hold a workshop.  Charge admission, sell books, and sell boxed lunches from a local restaurant that gives them to you at cost, just so it has a chance to introduce its food to consumers.

8.      Partner with Groupon so people get daily deals and incentives to buy from you – right now!

9.      Have a rooftop party.  Why not make use of all your real estate?  Get them up on the roof for a nice summer evening.

10.  Take the store beyond its four walls. B&N should go to other locations and encourage a book event.  For instance, B&N can offer to go to a school and sell children’s books and coordinate with several publishers to bring in authors for a chat.  Or B&N can go to a big corporate building and offer to set up a kiosk once a week, filled with books that cover certain themes or topics that likely would interest those people.

11.  Hold a wedding at a store.  Yes, call me crazy, but look at other venues, such as museums, baseball stadiums, or City Hall.  They will allow people to rent out non-traditional spaces for weddings, parties, corporate retreats, etc.  Book lovers on a budget may love having their engagement party at a B&N – or even the wedding party or ceremony.

12.  Encourage schools to plan a school trip to the bookstore. Even if they don’t buy any books, they at least are given a positive introduction to books and reading.  They’ll likely come back to places they enjoy.

13.  Have events at every store.  Some stores, like the large one on 54th and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, doesn’t hold any events.  Why would you lose the chance to get people in the doors?

14.  Hold events all day.  Why wait for lunch time or after work for a book chat and signing?  Have them around the clock so that people know they can always come in and be entertained.  This helps get people in during slower hours, such as 11 am or 2 pm.

15.  Hold events after hours. Many places lack something to do past 9 pm, other than get dinner at some restaurants.  Why not have something to do after closing hours?

16.  Work with your community.  Do you know how many non-profits, small businesses, and activists want to connect with the people of their town?  The bookstore can be that place that brings people together.  Why can’t a bookstore partner with others for events that build good will, get people in the store, and get the cash register ringing.  Have a local wine tasting or a food tasting brought in by a new restaurant.  Talk about cooking, party hosting and other topics that are covered by the books available in the store.  Authors don’t have to be the only speakers in a bookstore.

17.  Since you sell toys, music, and movies, have people in those industries come in and do a presentation. I’m sure there are music artists who’d love to hawk their music or a toy company would love to have a spokesperson discuss their newest toys and trends in educating and entertaining our youth.

18.  Have a section called: In the News.  Feature books that cover newsy topics or books that were in the news, reviewed, or talked about heavily in the blogosphere.  Just like stores feature bestsellers, they can feature books that were reviewed by PW or NYT or featured on major TV shows.

19.  Stores should hold 30­-minute workshops that give people an overview of what the store sells, how to find what you want, and that indicates how important books and the printed word are to society. Stores should not assume anything, especially when it comes to the new generation that is being raised by Apple.  B&N doesn’t just sell books that people need or want – it represents all that books can be, have been, and should be.  It’s a big burden, but B&N can help inspire readers, writers, and responsible citizens.

20.  Remember, you have a physical place, and you have online real estate.  You have what it takes to reach consumers.  Don’t squander that unique advantage.  You also have a long history.  Don’t just expect to live off of it.  Get out there and proselytize.  Or perish!

21.  Since you sell newspapers and magazines, have people from those publications come speak¸ just like an author would.  You may not sell a ton of content at the event, but you’ll get people into the store who may buy other things. 

22.  Help people make gift-buying decisions.  People still buy books as gifts.  The process could go smoother with the help of a knowledgeable employee.  More training of the customer service reps could go a long way.

23.  Have a flier or newsletter and fill it with ads from publishers or community businesses. It can be a money maker.

24.  Connect with people who connect to others – realtors, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals may want to give a book as a gift to clients or use it as a lure to get people to attend an open house or business-generating event.  Offer them bulk discounts and make them aware of relevant books that are new and available.

25.  Offer to perform a service the government normally does, to get people into the store.  For instance, instead of going to City Hall to buy a parking permit or beach and park pass, go to B&N.  The government would be happy to outsource its work for free – and B&N would benefit by getting people to visit who otherwise did not plan to do so.

26.  Read the books that you sell – and learn how to market, sell, brand and promote.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. 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 © 2013

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