Monday, May 5, 2014

Open Letter to Barnes and Noble

Yes, I have a vested interest in keeping Barnes and Noble open. From everything I've read lately, it's on the verge of bankruptcy. I hope I'm wrong and that this is just media looking for a dramatic story. But I don't think I'm wrong. I'm in B&N a lot and it doesn't look like business is brisk.

I am a writer. I'm writing a new book that I want to sell to a publisher. Who, hopefully, will place it in bookstores. The indies are making a come back, thank heavens to Murgatroyd, but the reality is that we writers need as many venues as possible to market out books because the marketplace should NOT be limited to amazon's mathematical algorithms. If B&N closes shop, then we will all be relegated to self-publishing.


There is nothing you can do about amazon's predatory pricing. But what you can do is making your stores a destination. Borders used to be good at this, and, yes, I know it didn't save them, but the marketplace is smaller now. You have less competition. Below are a host of ideas to get people into your stores.

1.  Partner with local businesses. Hook up with travel agents and have them do show and tells once a month on places to go. In fact, sign with Rick Steves and have him do events in your stores. Can't get Rick Steves? Have local travel agents come in to market travel destinations. And, naturally, you'll have books available on discount for said destination! I would actually do this twice a month. Once for locations in the U.S. and one event for locations outside of the U.S.

2.  Partner with local schools. Essentially create a book fair on site. I noticed that in your efforts to reduce all other merchandising of books, the kids' sections remain robust. Clearly you have a market there. Target grades. Have a storyteller there EVERY SINGLE SATURDAY dressed up as a princess, a clown, whatever, and have them read to young kids. And just by chance, you'll have a table stocked with books right there! with age-appropriate materials.

3.  The cookbook section also seems robust. There seems to be a new rash of cookbooks published every month. Get authors in there for cooking demos.

4.  Start a mystery reader's club. Host this twice a month. Mystery readers love reading books in series. You get someone hooked on one book in a series, you have them hooked for all of them.

5.  Ditto for sci-fi club.

6.  Ditto for young adult club.


I'm sure other people have other ideas about this. But the salient fact is that you are not optimizing your floor space. Stop filling it with thingamybobs. Fill it with people. Amazon cannot compete with you on this score. The ONE thing you can provide and you are not providing is the personal interaction with the public. Readers want that. Make your store a destination. Yes, probably people will attend your events and then rush home to buy books off of amazon. But over time you will create brand loyalty (if you survive).

Case in point. I attend my writers' critique group twice a month at a B&N in Dublin. I don't buy something every single time, but I do buy something once a month. Why? Because I'm there and I was browsing through your stacks and I saw something.

Get off your tushes and start thinking about ways to get people in your stores.


Jenny Milchman said...

These are all great ideas, Claire. I'm not certain that B&N is in dire straits--just may have over-invested in Nook prior to a time when dedicated e-reader sales would flatten--but I think you're right that getting people in the store, even if any one event doesn't make money, is what distinguishes bricks and mortar venues, and gives them their own niche.

Holding writers groups is a great idea--a selection of books on craft could be displayed, and at most events I do, at least one person is looking for a good workable writers group.

I am currently on book tour for 4 months and going into about 145 B&N's to sign copies of my book. It is thrilling, and I hope you get to do the same before too long. Best of luck with your work and submitting!

Claire M. Johnson said...

@ jenny First of all, let me congratulate you on your wonderful Edgar win. You go, girlfriend.

None of the B&N in my area host signings anymore. I have done signings at them in the past. No more. Also, of the five B&N within driving distance of me, only two remain open.

I have read a number of articles recently that question B&N current financial viability. They are closing 20 stores per year and that doesn't look to change anytime soon. They are continuously reducing their book-selling space in favor of games and toys. The Nook has stumbled badly.

See this article:

and this one:

and this one:

Notice that all of these articles harp on the lack of focus. That they seem to have lost their retail mojo. This is the ONE area where B&N can give amazon a run for its money. Let me tell you. Sending me discount coupons endlessly is only part of the story. They need to make the floor space pay for itself. To date, I don't believe they are doing that. If I want a signing in my area, I need to go to the independents. Which is great on one level, but the closing of B&N stores is not good for any of us, with the exception of amazon.

Jennie L. Brown said...

You nailed it. Stores need people, not toys and gift items. Enough stores already sell those.

Our B&N used to employ a community outreach person who had a half dozen events scheduled each month, drawing a lot of people. I sold 44 books at the launch of my first book. He even helped me with book events in a neighboring state.

He arranged everything from music presentations to travel talks, to poetry readings, to, of course, book signings and launch parties. B&N cut his position and the events dried up. Sad for the community and no doubt for their sales.