I’m sure a quick web search will turn up lots and lots of articles to this effect. My other disclaimer is that I certainly don’t have much retail experience to lean on, and I haven’t really done much in terms of “homework”.
Yes, this article is about as armchair as they come. Enjoy.
Tonight I walked into a Barnes & Noble in Springfield, MO, and this is what I saw:
B&N is going to lose this battle.
This isn’t really a post about the Nook, as much as it’s a post about how I think B&N is going about this whole “selling books” thing all wrong. I’m making this assumption based on a few changes I’ve seen (and a few I haven’t seen) in the stores.
- They’ve been heavily focused on the Nook.
- They’ve been reducing reading areas inside the store.
- They haven’t been doing any of my ideas. Duh.
Now, I’m sure that B&N has invested millions into R&D and consultants, all of which/whom have lead them to the strategy they’re currently employing. Cool. Awesome. Good for them. Just one problem…
It didn’t work for Borders.
Sure, I know that B&N isn’t Borders, and they certainly aren’t doing everything exactly like Borders did. There is probably no shortage of analysts who would tell me that theirs are (were) “completely different strategies”, and that B&N is doing the only truly practical thing it can do, which appears to be “Go head to head with Amazon and try to beat them at their own game.”
Personally, I find this strategy to be ridiculous.
Again, these are assumptions based on what I’m seeing, and this article is about what I would do if I owned B&N, not about what experts say should be done. Instead, you’re going to get “Retail Book Seller Strategy: According to Dan”.
I should warn you that if you own a bookstore, this may bankrupt you.
Stop focussing so much on the Nook inside of the store.
B&N has something that Amazon doesn’t have: a physical space. And yet they’re utilizing that physical space to compete directly with Amazon. Huh? This doesn’t make any sense to me at all. I would heavily promote the Nook on the website, but minimize it in the store. (more on that later)
Instead, offer unique Nook experiences inside of the store.
That whole “read any book for an hour” thing is genius. I’d sell Nooks that way, and get people inside of the store that way. Win/win. Then, I’d come up with more ideas for how to integrate the Nook with an in-person, brick and mortar experience, something that Amazon can never replicate.
Beef up the lounge and café areas considerably.
What do these areas do? Get people into the store. What else? They keep people in the store. And? They keep them coming back.
Anecdotally, I used to go to B&N about 50 times a year. Seriously. And 45 of those times, I purchased one thing, and one thing only: coffee and dessert. Okay, that’s two things, but you get the point.
The wifey and I would go there nearly every Friday night to relax, coffee shop-style, with a book and/or magazines. Then, when birthdays and Christmas rolled around, where do you think I shopped for books? Amazon? Nope. Trusty, faithful, familiar Barnes & Noble. Habits of any kind die hard, and instant gratification is hard to beat (another thing I can’t get from Amazon).
We’ve since stopped this tradition because B&N has stopped making it easy and convenient for us to go there and hang out. In 2012, we spent about $650 at B&N over the course of the year (at the café and on merchandise), and in 2013, we spent about $250. In 2014, we may spend $50.
Get people inside of the store. Keep them inside of the store. Keep them coming back. They’ll buy stuff.
Shrink my stores.
Yep. Sometimes you just have to admit that it’s time to change the game, and by changing the game in this case, I’d be admitting that I don’t need ginormous, warehouse-sized stores. Not everywhere, anyway. I’d probably do something more akin to REI’s strategy: a handful of “flagship” stores that are like, Book Lover Town, USA. Then, populate key markets with smaller, more intimate book loving experiences that cost fewer $$ to operate.
Use my considerable distribution power to publish indie authors.
Amazon makes it ridiculously easy to publish your work independently. In fact, it makes it too easy. Real readers find it difficult to wade through the crap to find really great independent books. So, often, the strategy for book lovers is wait and let early adopters weed out the junk before making a purchase decision.
B&N already has a publishing arm. I’d utilize that with some great editors/curators to start finding and featuring exclusive Barnes & Noble authors. Writers really don’t care to self-publish ebooks. Writers want to feel ink on page. They want to hear that sound the first time someone pries open their first hardcover edition. B&N could provide this to independent, talented authors. Exclusively, of course. Which brings me to…
Create an ecosystem for writers and readers who love books.
Will books one day go away completely? Who knows. But I’d bet every dollar in my pocket (or the millions I’d invest buying B&N) that they aren’t going away in our lifetimes. So, why shouldn’t some businesses be all about books? I’d make B&N be synonymous with “books”. How? Here are some mini-ideas:
- Partner with local libraries to run book events.
- Donate books to libraries and charities.
- Beef up signing events and book readings.
- Foster new creative talent by hosting writing meet ups.
- Dedicate a portion of the store to first editions, rare books, and used books.
I’d make it so that anytime someone thinks “I want a book…” they don’t follow that with “…I should go to the library.” or “…I should check out Amazon.” They think instead, “I should head over to Barnes & Noble.”
Ensure that everyone on my staff is a book lover and expert.
What else can’t Amazon give me? A book expert. I mean, yes, there are crowd-sourced reviews, and they’re useful. Really, they are. But as awesome as the internet is, nothing beats walking up to a person who is passionate about books and saying, “You know, I really have found that I love poetry, but I don’t know anything about it. Can you help?” and having that real live person grin ear to ear and say something like, “Let me introduce you to my friend John Keats.”
Warm-blooded lovers of books. Amazon doesn’t have that. My B&N would.
Drop Starbucks and instead partner with local coffee shops.
Everyone’s loving local, artisanal, craft wares these days. And for good reason. They’re better. They contribute to local economies. They’re cooler. And my B&N would already be sort of “the enemy” to local businesses, because it’d be competing with local bookstores, a la You’ve Got Mail. F.O.X.
So, I’d hook up with locals instead of Big Box SBX. I’d find the best local coffee shiller and bring them in to run my café. Give the locals a reason to come drink coffee at my bookstore.
Bottom line, I’d invest money in creating book-centric, reader-friendly experience centers. Get people coming back over and over and over again. And then, at every opportunity, I’d sell them things. Coffee. Dessert. Books. Notebooks. Meeting space. Pens. Magazines. I’d be the best at everything that Amazon simply cannot do well. I’d be the anti-Amazon.
Unfortunately, I don’t think B&N is doing that. Instead, they’re treating Amazon as their direct competition…and that’s a game they simply cannot win. I would assume that even though books won’t go away in our lifetimes, Barnes & Noble almost certainly will.