It’s not that I’m fond of making these kind of forecasts, but since I’ve been in the business of predicting the downfall of shaky local businesses, here’s another one:
Goodbye Barnes & Noble, it was fun while it lasted! I’m giving 'em two years at the most.
Wouldn’t you think Barnes & Noble's brain trust might have learned something from Borders' demise? Wouldn’t you think, now that they’re the only game in town, they'd parlay that survival into some kind of reasonable success? Wouldn’t you think someone somewhere on that B&N management team would’ve read at least one of my columns on the book store subject?
But no! Apparently they’re bound and determined to make the very same mistakes that led to Borders’ swift departure.
“But Jeff! I haven’t seen anything in the news about B&N. Could you be imagining things?” That’s always a possibility—readers often say I’m delusional—but this time the book chain hopes their latest bad business decisions remain under the radar.
You see my wife, an aspiring novelist, is a member of the Windy City Romance Writers Association, and one of their members subscribes to a blog that quoted a July 10 message from a B&N employee.
“We were notified at our B&N location this week that in the next couple of weeks we will be receiving a ‘massive returns download.’ To coincide with this outflux of books we will be adding three more of the massive toys and games displays, as well as expanding gift and the digital presence.”
In other words, despite the fact that 70 percent of readers actually prefer a physical copy of the book, if they haven’t already shipped them back to the publishers, Barnes & Noble will be making “massive” inventory cuts. Then they’ll shift their focus to digital books and allocate more store space to games and toys.
Put even simpler, the Barnes & Noble brick-and-mortar operation decided to go out of business on July 10, 2011. Who knows? Maybe they can survive as an Net only entity, but the net result for Geneva will be the same—no major book retailer until Anderson’s in Naperville.
So much for exploiting that instant-gratification advantage! As I’ve previously postulated, my 11-year-old would rather spend more of his hard-earned allowance (yeah right!) to have his prized item now, than buy it cheaper online and wait for it to ship. And he isn’t nearly the only one to ascribe to that philosophy.
Let’s talk about the space shift to games and toys. Does anyone within the sound of my voice really think, with a Wal-Mart or Target always within range, folks are suddenly going to start thinking B&N when it comes to toys? Not on your life! It’s called diluting your brand.
No one’s asked me, but with Borders gone, were I CEO, I’d be launching a marketing campaign along the lines of “We’re still books—and plenty of them!” Then I’d make every effort to remind customers of the thrill they get when they walk into a well-stocked bookstore.
But no! Their peculiar version of reality includes focusing on e-books and thus, teaching their customers to turn to the Internet for reading material. Go ahead and let B&N online grab their share of folks that prefer that, but do you really want to train your walk-in customers to go digital?
And foisting that kind of return on publishers isn’t exactly going to enamor them of the kind of books you have to sell in order for your stores to survive. That’s a brand of insanity that I can’t even begin to fathom.
I wouldn’t be counting on their online retailing, either. We don’t have time to go into detail, but my last B&N online attempt to order the Beatles Mono Box set was a nightmare because their purported inventory didn’t necessarily match up with orders. A two-week wait turned into two months and then it took multiple calls to get my money back. That doesn’t happen at Amazon!
I suppose the good news is, as my readers have so insightfully noted, when B&N inevitably goes belly up, the lack of a large book chain will once again open the door to the independents that went the way of the dinosaur when the superstores came on the scene.
And if they can avoid these kind of blatant bad business decisions borne of an entitlement mentality, they will be the wave of the future. Given a choice, I’ll choose the independent store all the time. There’s nothing quite like buying vinyl records at Kiss the Sky.
So Genevans! You might want to haul your kids on over to B&N while you still can. You can stand together in the middle of the store and gaze in awe as you explain this is what we called a book superstore at the turn of century. They used to rule the land.
Be sure and turn out the lights when you leave.