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Barnes & Noble has been labeled as the savior or destroyer of the book industry over its 100 year history. Lately, it’s the bookstore chain itself that needs to be saved.
Enter James Daunt, a longtime bookseller who built his own mini bookstore chain and got credit for turning Waterstones, Britain’s largest bookseller. Elliott Management, the hedge fund that deprived B&N last year, brought in Daunt to resurrect Waterstones’ much bigger American cousin. the Wall Street newspaper journalist Jeffrey Trachtenberg, who has been covering the ups and downs of B&N for decades, Daunt profile this weekend and offers a detailed overview of the new CEO’s strategy.
Although Daunt (and Trachtenberg) give a few nods to Amazon in the room you will not find any mention of barnesandnoble.com. In fact, there is barely a mention of Daunt’s strategy for online sales in the entire 2000 word article:
Mr. Daunt is working on improving Barnes & Noble’s online store, but his main focus is on physical stores. “It’s in stores that you retain your customers,” he says. “If you get your stores right, your online sales will follow. If your stores are crap, so will your online.“
As the pandemic ravages traditional outlets and fuels the growth of online shopping, it is curious to ignore online selling. The rise in Instagram Book Influencers and bookshop.org, the new fast growing online site support independent bookstores, are not discussed either. And there’s absolutely nothing on B&N’s eBook platform, the Nook, despite a sharp increase in eBook reading this year. for the first time in ages.
In fact, Daunt’s whole strategy, which relies on localizing chain store content and making it easier to navigate through books, seems straight out of the 1990s. It doesn’t seem to take much advantage of the huge scale of B&N by simply copying what makes the quality of small independent bookstores. Daunt’s effort might stabilize things a bit. But that hardly seems like a plan to get Barnes & Noble through for another 100 years.