Donald J. Trump should no more become the next CEO of Barnes & Noble, to replace the just-fired Ronald Boire, than he should become the 44th president of the U.S.
Still, the largest brick-and-mortar seller of books in the U.S., is begging for a smarter, kinder version of disruption on a Trumpish scale.
Here are few ideas:
- Bring in a female CEO, not just to help bypass the old boy network but also for B&N to understand its customers better. Most book buyers are women. I wish more men went in for books, but B&N needs to deal with the here and now. Furthermore, I suspect that B&N’s nonbook-related activities—such as sales of music and toys—draw mainly female customers.
- Persuade Executive Chair Leonard Riggio, 75, the acting CEO, to scale back his involvement to that of a board member and advisor. B&N shares have plummeted 25 percent in the past year. The company commands just a fraction percent of the e-book market. Sorry, Len. It ain’t working. You own 18 percent of the stock. Money before pride!
- Improve customer service both offline and online. Offline means hiring better-read clerks to keep up with those at indie stores. Online means being more responsive to customer issues, technical and otherwise.
- Aggressively lean on publishers to let B&N cut back on encryption-based DRM, replacing it with social DRM if they insist on some kind of anti-piracy measure. Let customers know that B&N wants them to be able to own their books for real and do more with them than they can with Kindle books. If nothing else, a DRM scale-back would reduce the tech-support torture that TeleRead community members have reported suffering at the hands of B&N.
- Worry less about B&N/Samsung ereaders and more about apps for third-party tablets and phones. The main ereading app still sucks, in terms of typographical choices and other ways. Same for the Nook E Ink readers.
- Be more helpful to self-published writers both online and offline. Even local writers with established publishers don’t always get the support they should out of B&N, whether the issue is signings or the availability of their titles.
- Cut back on pay-to-play arrangements with publishers, in terms of shelf space and location of displays. What a loathsome practice! It harms the book business both in terms of quality and revenue. I know. Supermarkets charge for display space—I understand. But your taste in oatmeal or orange juice isn’t as personal a matter as it is for books. Let the marketplace, not cozy publisher-retailer arrangements, determine the fate of best sellers and other books. Give major titles, which the Big Five have spent big bucks advertising, some decent display space. But focus on the ones that really are good, as opposed to those with the biggest pay-to-play deals.
The chances of B&N following the above ideas? Not high right now. Just the same, as someone rooting for Amazon not to be the only show in town, regardless of Brand A’s positives, I’d love for Riggio and friends to surprise me.
So, TeleRead community members, what do you think of the above suggestions, and what would you recommend for B&N?
Also see another perspective on B&N—from TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows.
Image credit: Here.
I’m not a fan of B&N. I work in the outskirts of Seattle and there is a B&N store close by – but I rarely, rarely visit. The stock they shelve just isn’t to my tastes. On the other hand, if I worked near Eliot Bay Books – an independent store downtown – I’d be there a few days per month at least, and spending.
So why should I care about B&N? If they went away if might make room for a more diversified independent bookstore. I won’t hold my breath.
Quote: “Bring in a female CEO, not just to help bypass the old boy network but also for B&N to understand its customers better. Most book buyers are women.”
B&N is under too much financial stress to play affirmative action games, nor does it make sense to choose a woman “to understand its customers better.” Women are already greatly over-represented in editorial positions, selecting what books get published. That may explain why “most book buyers are women.” What growth there is lies with men.
My hunch is that big chain bookstores compete too closely with Amazon and can’t win in that battle. Smaller stores, more closely atune to their community and its reading desires, are likely to weather the storm better.
That is, if they’re willing to innovate and adapt.
@MichaelPerry: Affirmative action not—just practicality. A strong female leader would be more likely to shake up the existing corporate culture at B&N. As for male readers, I’ve called on on the book industry and librarians to care much more about them than is currently the case, but B&N needs results now.