Barnes & The Noble Future
In a recent Forbes article by Barbara Thau, "Death By Inertia? How Barnes & Noble Has Squandered Its Opportunities," the author explored the possibility that, after five years of poor business decisions, the last major national book chain may find its way to closed doors. In the story, I found moments of nostalgia, sad reflection, and also . . . hope.
Years ago, I was proud to serve in the ranks of Borders Books, Music, & Cafe, eventually working my way up to General Manager of my own $7.5 Million annual revenue store. I was proud of the store and have many happy memories of working with my awesome team on "merch nights," or, the Monday night store beautification that took place before each week's new releases on Tuesdays. Even then, the writing was on the wall, as much as it was in the books. Like most big box stores, we were feeling the pinch of the internet, tried doing more with less in terms of time and people, and--when the chain said farewell a few years later--I wasn't surprised.
It took awhile before I could go back into a bookstore. As much as I once thought Borders was SO much greater than the other guy, they still worked on pretty similar models. (Hmm . . . maybe it could have been a hint!) I could feel at home, there. Or so I thought. As it turned out, this world that once filled me with wonder and imagination became a cold place. I was watching the decline of an industry . . . of my industry.
Past the "automatic bestsellers" and paid placement on the front tables and end caps of my one-time-competitor, I noticed that the great B&N had changed. Once beyond the electronic kiosks (really?!), this store had become home for "gift books" with names cleverer than the content between the covers, knick knacks, quirky pairings or packages, overpriced music, edible goodies, and children's toys. The ever-growing bargain section was filled with cookbooks that would embarrass your grandmother on every level ("Bake Your Own Erotic Cakes . . . in the Microwave!") alongside the latest craft or hobby trends ("If You Don't Like Our Pointless Knick Knacks . . . Try Making Your Own"). Events of any kind were far and few between and attempts to partner with them (as a fellow industry colleague) was futile. Is the writing on the wall for B&N, too?
That's the sad reflection . . .
It makes me sad in the way that I'm sad when I talk to my children about family sitcoms, town picnics, and the other things that were part of life . . . back in the day. In particular, Thau drew some tears when she asserted:
"....Should the last remaining national book chain vanish, the life-of-the-mind food that books provide, and that shoppers still clearly crave, would disappear from the malls and strip centers...."
Shopping centers without an anchor bookstore? Without a chance to pick up books, feel their covers, and smell their pages? Without the allowable steals of the scrumptious starts, perfect paragraphs, and lovely lures of the tales?
That's the nostalgia . . .
But what about the HOPE?
In my life after Borders, I actually delved deeper into the writing and publishing industries, working, ultimately, with a number of authors and publishers in the development, launching, and distribution of quality works. Barnes & Noble, this big box bookstore, was not full of nostalgia from this side of the desk. It was full of red tape.
The publishing world was changing around them! Independent, Hybrid, and Print-on-Demand publishers have worked hard to earn their place alongside niche and traditional publishers. These new ventures have authors who are determined, driven, and dedicated to getting their books on the shelves. Barnes & Noble's answer to them was to work with their "small print publishing coordinators" (something like that), or "events coordinators;" both roles that tended to serve a cluster of stores. I'm not sure what they really did, though, as I rarely had success in scheduling signings for my authors - including those authors with massive followings, traditional distribution, and their own marketing.
You know who filled that void? Thau's Forbes article has it right. The local, independent bookstore stepped in to engage the new world of their industry. In so doing, they gained a loyal family of followers. Events, signings, selling on consignment if they had to, promotions . . . they wanted this new breed of writing professional to succeed because their own success was the natural, accompanying result.
Look, I'm not wishing ill-will on Barnes & Noble, but their current struggles are due, in large part, to their unwillingness to adjust to an industry that has evolved. EVERY SINGLE OTHER FACET of the book world has had to adapt to the reality of Amazon. In this new world, competition is fierce and coming from the Big 5 Publishers (who, by the way, used to be the Big 6 . . . even THEY adjusted), as much as it is the small business owner or entrepreneur who has a motivated following buying his or her new book(s). This new world moves faster, markets more intensely, and explores multiple distribution avenues. Being an author isn't a career anymore, unless you are in the tiny top percentage of publicized authors from the tiny top percentage of traditional publishers.
Writing can be part of a larger, income-producing career, though.
Essentially, writers no longer just write; they build platforms and followings;
to the individuals across those platforms and amongst those followings,
they offer the occasional gift of story in a book.
My "open letter" to the last national book chain:
Barnes & Noble, it's not too late!
Join us in the new and noble world of the word. Besides the Local Bookstores,
Publishers know it's here; they have begun their own print-on-demand lines, as well as, with some exceptions, begun to order smaller print runs
Distributors know it and have begun offering larger, more varied catalogs that include more and smaller publishing houses
The Conferences know it and have space in their events for independents, audiobooks, ebooks, and other formats or platforms
Printers know it and work for labels at low quantities they wouldn't have considered even five years ago
Authors know it . . . and they are busting hump to get on your shelves
I can't tell you why, exactly. Maybe it's the sadness at the desolate, fluorescent, and often abandoned castles bookending their malls. Maybe it's the nostalgia for the print world they once knew. For you, though . . . it may be your only HOPE.
I digress . . .
What do you think about the changing world of the book industry and bookstores? If you need help navigating these rapid waters with changing currents, maybe you need an author's business plan. It's just one of the things that I offer in my one-on-one intensives. Only one slot remains in 2018 and I'm already booking my remaining four slots in 2019. Reach out to schedule your session at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yours in writing,
8-Time #1 Bestselling Author of Over 40 Publications
Celebrity Co-Author and Writing & Publishing Industry Consultant
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