What Can We Learn from Barnes & Noble’s Surprising Turnaround?

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We enjoyed this thoughtful piece from music and art critic Ted Gioia. He discusses how the old-school bookselling company Barnes & Noble has worked its way back to profitability. Gioia argues that the trend reversal is largely due to hiring James Daunt as the company’s new CEO. Daunt returned the company’s focus to books themselves. And not just books as flimsy stand-ins for backroom promotional deals, books as worthwhile products that consumers want. He showed that focusing on good products could yield profits. He also empowered the store employees to apply their own book knowledge to stocking and display strategies. It’s sort of remarkable that all it took to save one of the largest book retail giants from itself was to adopt a small, independent bookstore mindset and simply scale up.

It’s amazing how much difference a new boss can make.


But the most amazing thing Daunt did at Waterstones was this: He refused to take any promotional money from publishers.

This seemed stark raving mad. But Daunt had a reason. Publishers give you promotional money in exchange for purchase commitments and prominent placement—but once you take the cash, you’ve made your deal with the devil. You now must put stacks of the promoted books in the most visible parts of the store, and sell them like they’re the holy script of some new cure-all creed.

Read the full story here.


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