Monday, November 24, 2014

Dear Barnes & Noble

A Christmas Wish List To B&N

I want to believe in you, that you will always be here for me in my time of need, that your doors will always be open to nurture the building minds of society’s readers, that every community will have you, that you will be a partner we can love and count on.  Love is not easy, because it’s a matter of the heart, and our hearts can’t pump our lifeblood without books and bookstores leading the way.  Right now, it seems like your heart needs a pacemaker.

It does no good to look back at the many, many mistakes you’ve made that have led up to where you are today, but in order to move forward in our relationship, I do need you to take ownership for your errant ways and to recommit every fiber in your corporate body to building up your connection to the book publishing industry.

You never properly challenged Amazon. When your biggest competitor died, you responded not by buying up some Borders locations but by shutting some of yours down.  The Nook never took hold like the Kindle.  You were once the biggest kid on the playground but somehow you got left back a grade.

So what can you do to once again compete in today’s book marketplace?  Plenty, but you need to do as I say and stop wasting precious time.

First, open more stores – smaller ones – to service underserved areas.  There are hundreds of towns lacking bookstores.  The Bronx, with nearly two million people, won’t have a single bookstore when you close yours up shortly.  You need to have a presence everywhere – now – or you’ll never be able to get back in once you’ve been long gone.

Second, stop closing stores.  The only time a store should close is if the lease is being raised exorbitantly.  In such cases, relocate nearby, but don’t just leave an entire area.

Third, use your store locations to your advantage.  Establish yourself as the leader, as the epicenter of intellectual gatherings, as the cultural hub or safe haven that you should be.  Longer hours – not shorter – should be the norm.  You can have trained staff talking people into buying books.  Be proactive, not reactive.

Fourth, hold more events.  People value touching people, not screens.  All the skyping, texting, tweeting, and downloading can’t replace human contact.  Be the oasis for people to gather and feel alive to experience a sense of shared community.  Hold events around the clock, with live programming going on as if you were a TV station.  Authors want to do book signings and they can bring in crowds.  It doesn’t only have to be authors making presentations.  Publishing personnel can also come and discuss the editing, publishing, and marketing of books.  Be a forum for the exchange of ideas and nourish the ecosystem of thought.

Five, distinguish yourselves. Why are you better/different than other retailers?  Why should one buy from B&N vs. Amazon, Costco, or others?  The truth is, B&N should sell not just prices, customer service, selection, etc. but the fact that it brings not just books to people but people who love books together.  Make it something cool, something special to be a B&N Member.

Six, partner with other organizations, businesses, and even government agencies to do cross promotions.  Get them to hand out B&N cards or showcase you on their sites – and you reciprocate with other compensation, whether it be discounts, onsite promotions, or allowing groups to gather at your stores.

Seven, promote the self-published community.  They are the largest segment of publishing – and the fastest growing.  Partner with authors and see them as sales people to grow your bottom-line.

Eight, have a street-side barker bring crowds into your stores.  Act like it’s a store’s grand opening and hustle to bring in people.  Behave like a start-up and be hungry and aggressive.  You need to win over customers so that they’ll return for more.

Nine, have a special promotion: Turn your kindle in and get store credits and discounts on books.  Make it like a program the local police use to encourage people to sell back their guns.

Ten, win over the kids.  They are the future and when you create family friendly events at your store, you bring in a parent who may shop for themselves and their kids.  If kids grow up not thinking a bookstore is special, they’ll be lost forever.  Just as we teach ethics, civics and religion early on, we must indoctrinate our youth to love books and bookstores.

Please Barnes & Noble, it’s late but the sun has not yet set on you.  Pull out all of the stops to save not only yourself, but an industry, and our society.  Be creative, assertive, and opportunistic.  Take a risk and innovate.  You used to be a king and now you are reduced to just a seat in parliament.  Rise again and lead us.

I forgive you for your past incompetence, arrogance, and lack of vision, but you must begin, right now, to present yourself as the book industry’s greatest asset.  You can be a true force for good.  Step up to fulfill the role you were destined for.  You are the only thing standing between the Amazonation of America.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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