The (inevitable) death of Barnes & Noble

I’m not going to lie folks, I have a pony in this race, a BIG one. And for many reasons, I’m a pro-Amazon author, but I’m not anti-Barnes&Noble. I see them as having a very important function in the book marketplace. However I, and many industry insiders, are already seeing the mega-giant for what it is, a sinking ship. And really, I’m kind of fine with that. For those wondering why, here’s a no kidding peek behind the curtain. The opinions and experiences described here are 100% my own, your mileage may vary.

Why is this the beginning of the end for B&N? Well, to begin, they have failed pretty miserably at the e-book game. They tried, with NOOK, to compete in the digital marketplace, but at the end of the day, they are being wiped off the board by both Amazon’s Kindle, and iBooks for IPad. NOOK sales dropped a massive 40% last year. I have many theories as to why this happened, but at then end of the day it boils down to this, B&N’s home base was always print books. Sometimes diversification is good, important, but sometimes it takes too much away from your core and ends up being the nail in your coffin.

Case in point, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend at B&N brick and mortar stores, the same problem I saw with Borders before it’s downfall. That is that stores are carrying more and more non-book items (games, toys, movies, music, etc) and less and less actual books. As a matter of fact, it’s really hard to find older books, firsts in a series books, and the like on shelves. Because their actual book space is now extremely limited. If I go in, looking for the first book in the Hourglass Door series (fantastic books BTW), for example, I’m told to order it online. They are actively telling people to order it from home, and have it shipped straight to their house. The fundamental problem with that is that it keeps people OUT of the physical store. Let’s face it, for some time now, B&N has functioned as little more than a showroom for books. People go, they browse, then they leave and order books online to get the steep discounts (not always, but this seems to be the norm). B&N counteracted this by charging publishers a premium for that “face forward” shelf space (this is basically what their big battle with Hachett was all about). This company is literally driving away customers, then can’t understand why sales are down.

And I will also tell you something most people don’t know. As an author, working with B&N really sucks. They jack up release dates, shelve books in the wrong sections, and are generally (but not always) very rude to all but the biggest name authors. And if you do have a problem with something (Like your new book releasing almost TWO MONTHS EARLY, ahem) there is nothing but a crappy customer service email address, that bounces you from person to person, rarely actually addressing your problem. Why? They hate working directly with authors (or at least that’s my working theory). I’m not saying that Amazon doesn’t have it’s share of screw ups, but if I have an issue, as an author there is a number I can call and speak to a living person right away and get my issue handled without all the nonsense. And you know what? They treat me like a author, not like something they scraped off their shoe, which is something both B&N online and individual stores have a reputation for.

Now with all the recent hubub about Amazon’t KU program, and how they are only paying authors like 0.06 per page read, I know people are saying, how can you LIKE working with Amazon?

First of all, please go read this.

It sums up my feelings on that matter quite accurately.

But in reality, it has been my experience that Amazon never does anything to try to hose authors. If anything, they are really good about trying new avenues of delivering books to the public, and when they have a system in place that isn’t working, they are quick to amend it (which is funny because every time Amazon twitches the indie community panics and grabs the torches and pitchforks). They are a fluid company in an ever evolving industry and that is one of the main reasons Amazon is floating to the top. They are easy to work with (as an author) and more importantly to me, they treat everyone, big 6 and indie alike, with the same level of respect–Something B&N has never done. They want to make money, for themselves and for authors, but they also want to offer readers the best deals around. Maybe this is all part of some overreaching Skynet plan to wipe all other book sellers off the face of the planet and rule over us with an iron fist. But let’s blow up that bridge when we reach it, shall we?

Now, am I saying I think B&N will be gone in a year? In five? Maybe not. But you can expect stores to be closed and jobs to be lost in the very near future because in order to stick around they are going to need to take a long hard look at their business practices. They have a new CEO on his way in (the third in as many years, I believe) and to make it solvent he will need to do two things. Firstly, he will need to cut off the capital hemorrhaging NOOK properties (that is the physical readers themselves) and adopt a multi format online ebook sales strategy. Basically I mean, allowing consumers to buy ebooks of various formats through B&, similar to the way Smashwords does, so the books purchased there can be read on any reader or iDevice. And secondly and most importantly, they need to realize their strength in the one market they still dominate, actual print book sales. This means less filler crap in stores, widening their selections, and, I suggest, opening stores up to at least top selling indie authors.

Which brings up a very interesting point that I feel warrants discussion.

Why doesn’t B&N shelve indie authors when they make up a HUGE chunk of overall book sales in the e-market right now?

Well, it’s mainly because most indie authors print through either Lightning Source or CreateSpace (a B&N affiliate company, BTW) and those books are non-returnable, Print-on-Demand, meaning the books are printed as they are ordered, no warehousing costs or waste (though, a quick note that you can opt to make LS books returnable).

Why does returnability matter?

Because B&N actually MAKES money when a book is returned. Did you know that? When a book goes unsold for a few weeks, they pull it off the shelf and return it, and they get back the money they paid for the book, plus a return fee from the publisher. So what to they care if a book sells or not? They make money either way. But if a book isn’t returnable, then they have to sell it, or they are out money. That’s the bottom line.

And even if your books ARE returnable as an indie author, you probably still won’t get shelf space. See, the process at that point becomes that you send a copy of your book to the B&N hdqtrs with a note about why they should order and shelf it. Most of the time books going through this process are either rejected off hand or they buy, say 10 copies, send them to the stores, who hold them only for a few weeks before just returning them. B&N has a whole section of employees whose entire job is to decide what books end up in their store, they are the GATEKEEPERS OVERLORDS BUYERS, and unless you have the ability to get in front of one of them (the big 6 meet with them all the time) then your odds of shelving in that very important book showroom are next to nothing.

But never fear! Should B&N flounder, another chain shall rise up like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes and take it’s place (*crosses fingers* please be BAM, please be BAM). Why am I so confident, you ask? Well most indie stores, while awesome, can’t offer the sheer variety of a chain, nor the discounts needed to keep folks from just buying online. But people will always want a store they can walk into, grab a hot chocolate, and wander the racks seeing what the latest releases are. As for me, I’m bi-libral, meaning I love both ebook and print formats, but even I know there’s nothing quite like the smell of a book, the feel of it in your hands. And as much as I love Amazon, wandering a digital shelf just isn’t the same.

I’m curious what you think about the downfall of B&N, please leave your comments below! (Keeping in mind that I’m the queen here and while dissenting comments are cool rudeness is not and will be removed. KTHANXBI)



The (inevitable) death of Barnes & Noble — 9 Comments

  1. I have a whole lot of thoughts on this subject and it really saddens me. As a reader/blogger/person, I’ve hated dealing with Amazon for a very long time after some issues I had seen, and I’ve been pro-B&N ever since. I own a Nook, as well. That being said, in the past year my reading experience has plummeted. Books are not available on B&N, books aren’t ever available on time (or they come out way earlier), their customer service is laughable, and above all, as a company, they don’t stand behind their product. (That last one is a big one for me and comes from personal experience.) With more and more authors becoming Amazon exclusive, it alienated readers such as myself, but I can completely understand why they do it. I VERY SELDOM purchase print book in the BN stores as the costs are ridiculous and the authors see very little of the profits. As someone who reads primarily indie authors, there’s almost no allure for me to be a BN supporter anymore. I’m really hoping a new CEO will see the need for change, but only time can tell. If the rumors I’ve heard are true, soon BN will go the way of Borders and Amazon will hold the Monopoly on the book market. That, in itself, is an entirely other issue. Great post!

    • I’m not saying Amazon isn’t an evil empire. I’m pretty sure they are. But right now, they really are the lesser evil. And honestly, they have been much nicer to me overall than anyone at B& ever.

  2. #NoMoreFillerCrap I love going into my B&N, but I loathe the infiltration of the filler crap. With each new trinket taking up shelf space, that’s one less book on the shelves. The ONLY reason I go to B&N is to manhandle the books, and I inevitably leave with something…from the sale rack. If you take the books away, you lose me. Period. #NoMoreFillerCrap.

    Great post on a sad subject.


    • I’m with you on that. I LOVE buying from my local B&N, but too often they just don’t carry what i’m looking for. This past spring it took THREE MONTHS for them to order in a book for me that was a new release. And for some reason, every time I go in, the staff is pushing me to order online. Do they WANT their store to close? As for the filler crap, if i want toys, i go to a toy store. Give me BOOKS! That’s what I’m coming there for!

  3. I hate to admit this, because I’ve ALWAYS loved B&N, and print books in general, and I’m not a huge fan of what feels like a non-hostile takeover by Amazon of the entire bookselling industry…but the biggest reason I go into B&N now? I make one walk-through of the shelves, *maybe* buy a book…and then grab a drink and sit in the cafe for a few hours to grade papers, work on my blog, or write my novel. #SadButTrue

  4. I resisted ebooks. The only reason I wanted to buy ebooks was because Sony Ereader had a deal for 100 free classics. Next they offered Tons of free books like the first in Monings Fever Series. I was hooked. I found Lizzy Ford, and many other Indie authors and I was a true believer. Now Amazon has turned on their readers a bit, New ebooks more than print? I will always remember the time when my kindle died. I went a bit manic, okay maniacal. Amazon shipped my new kindle overnight, and I put the old kindle in the box with the reprinted label. Voila! The pre paid shipping label allowed me to put in in a nearby box. Kindle prime allows free books, movies, tv series, and free shipping!! I just hope they continue to keep prices affordable.

  5. Maybe it’s because I live in the middle of nowhere and have zero physical bookstores within a reasonable driving distance anymore but this past weekend I spent a blissful multiple hour period in a Barnes and Noble while visiting my sister. I use Amazon too but there is something so wonderful about being able to wander around and browse. It’s true I read mostly popular stuff and quite a bit is Young Adult so I don’t have the problems finding things. I also have to admit I love the so called “filler crap”. They are having themed pop culture weekends right now and I showed up during “Time Travel” weekend. I came in and was greeted with a table dedicated to all things Doctor Who. I ended up with several books from the table but some “stuff” as well. I have no experience with how they treat authors, but I can see why what you described is terrible. I personally would be devastated if yet another physical book chain went under.

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