B&N CEO James Daunt Delivers Keynote at BISG Annual Meeting

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On Friday, September 11, Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt appeared in conversation with Book Industry Study Group Executive Director Brian O’Leary to discuss the future of B&N and bookselling in general during the BISG virtual annual meeting. The entire discussion can be viewed on YouTube. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Inventory Curation: B&N is moving to give each of its 627 stores more autonomy in how they stock. Every store is different in how it curates, and publishers need to understand that every store now has control over their inventory. Books will be judged by how they sell. Each store’s curation needs to resonate with the local community. This curation applies to both frontlist and backlist titles. Deciding which titles should be in each store and which should be removed are based on the decisions of each B&N store and not mandated by the central office.
  • Closing Stores: The decision to close some stores is based on economic trends. Stores that are operating at a loss due to low traffic or high rents are candidates for lease renegotiation. B&N has found many landlords to be quite receptive to lowering leases.
  • Opening New Stores: Three to four new B&N stores opened in the first half of 2020. These stores range in size from 15,000 to 18,000 square feet, which is quite a bit smaller than the average 25,000-square-foot stores opened by B&N in the past. These new stores borrow heavily from the design and layout of Waterstones in the U.K. (where Daunt serves as managing director) as well as other independent bookstores around the world. The look is described by Daunt as being vibrant and fresh. Expect to see more of B&N’s redesigned stores opening in 2021.
  • Don’t be Amazon: The 627 B&N bookstores need to differentiate the in-store experience from what Amazon does online. Stores need to look good, have a great selection, inject personality and passion into bookselling, and serve the communities they are in.
  • Mistakes Will Happen: B&N is prepared to let some of its stores “make a pig’s ear” of this new business model. When that happens, they will learn from it and bring in people to correct the problem.
  • Moving Past Discounts to an Experience: The current membership model is a thing of the past. B&N wants customers to feel a connection to them. Each B&N store will aspire to engage with local customers. Understanding what people buy and serving local customers’ needs is key to the new model.
  • Reimagining B&N Distribution Centers: B&N is aiming to have the highest possible availability for stores and to reduce overstocking and returns. In order to expand this model, B&N needs regular and reliable access to stock information from publishers to create an efficient supply chain for its stores.
  • Still Enthusiastic About the Nook: Daunt loves the physical book, but he wants to give customers a digital option to get them into reading as an entry to physical books. He wants the company promoting the Nook again; Daunt feels it should be part of their mission as booksellers. A habit of reading creates a habit of purchasing.
  • Looking at How Readers Source Books: Daunt believes in getting books into houses by making them available to customers in as many places as possible. Amazon is doing this, which ends up increasing the number of people who read books.
  • Data Is Important: With this new model, B&N is trying to understand what its buying teams need at each store. Store buyers need help determining the best possible backlist and frontlist titles for their community. Data will be a big part of the toolset used by each store. The central office needs to give each store the tools to assist local buyers with curation.

See the entire conversation, including a Q&A, here.