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The Slow Demise of Barnes & Noble ( 121

John Biggs via TechCrunch reports of the slow demise of Barnes & Noble, which he has been chronicling for several years now. There have been many signs of trouble for the bookseller chain over the years, but none have been more apparent than the recent layoffs made earlier this week. From the report: On Monday the company laid off 1,800 people. This offered a cost savings of $40 million. [...] In fact, what B&N did was fire all full time employees at 781 stores. Further, the company laid off many shipping receivers around the holidays, resulting in bare shelves and a customer escape to Amazon. In December 2017, usually B&N's key month, sales dropped 6 percent to $953 million. Online sales fell 4.5 percent. It is important to note that when other big box retailers, namely Circuit City, went the route of firing all highly paid employees and bringing in minimum wage cashiers, stockers, and salespeople it signaled the beginning of the end.
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The Slow Demise of Barnes & Noble

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  • by UdoKeir ( 239957 ) on Friday February 16, 2018 @08:12PM (#56138892)
    The expensive management that steered the ship into the rocks don't get cut: []
    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday February 16, 2018 @09:34PM (#56139410)

      The expensive management that steered the ship into the rocks don't get cut:

      Different management would have made no difference. Retail bookselling was doomed. Nothing could have saved it.

      • by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Friday February 16, 2018 @11:36PM (#56139904)

        Maybe, maybe not, but those extravagant salaries certainly accelerated the decline. That $40 million in savings from firing 1800 people could have been had by firing a single CEO, and probably triple that could have been had removing the entire management team and replacing them with someone that knew the business and had a vision for the future.

        B&N was doomed by an inability by lack of vision, the created the first Android based Ebook reader and they gave up the market through negligence. The management during this period had no vision for the future and was obsessed with the next quarter, not the technological revolution that was going to totally change their industry. B&N never adapted, there are plenty of independent book sellers still in business and actually thriving because they cater to the people that actually read books. B&N's management took the path of selling board games and coffee rather than trying to attract people that actually read books. Rather than focus the business they tried to generalize and drove the real readers to the independent book sellers.

        They would have done better to fire all the management and hire one of those independent book sellers to run the chain.

        • someone that knew the business and had a vision for the future.

          Nobody that "knows the business" has a vision for the future of book retailing because there is no future.

          there are plenty of independent book sellers still in business and actually thriving

          In your dreams. Every independent bookseller in my city went under a decade ago. Then Borders folded. B&N is the last to close.

          B&N's management took the path of selling board games and coffee

          That was a smart move, and helped them outlast their competitors, but it wasn't enough.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Don't forget to say "vinyl is dead" while you have your crystal ball out.

          • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
            books-a-million is still around and half-price books does a brisk business in used and new books.
        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          So, you figure they could have attracted a higher grade of management who actually had the vision needed to saving the company ... by paying them less?

        • Rip the nook hd. Had an excellent interface far superior in terms of look and feel even to iOS.

          The simple touch is the superior eink reader, too, with itâ(TM)s physical buttons. If b&j canâ(TM)t handle it, I hope somebody good buys the ip. Maybe Apple will buy b&n.

        • by ranton ( 36917 )

          My guess is the author of this post doesn't even manage a dozen employees, let alone 26,000. One sure fire way to identify someone who has successfully moved up the ranks of responsibility at a large enterprise is they understand how vastly more difficult each move up the corporate ladder is. The thought that some manager of an independent book seller with perhaps a few dozen employees could handle a 26,000 person enterprise is laughable for anyone who has the slightest clue what they are talking about.

        • That $40 million in savings from firing 1800 people could have been had by firing a single CEO

          The B&N CEO made $5M in 2017, most of that in (rapidly declining) stock. []

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Incorrect. Retail bookselling is only doomed in stupid countries. They're stupid for 2 reasons: first, they don't love books and second, they stood by and did nothing as Amazon walked up with a smile and ruined their book industry.

        If you look at Japan, their book industry is a monster. The Japanese LOVE to read, it's a national passion. As a result, when Amazon came to Japan and went to their publishers to try and give them the same deal that all western publishers had no choice but to accept, the Ja

      • I don't think so. Not everyone is a slave to Amazon, every time I go to a bookstore there are lots of real people walking around inside it.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Books themselves are in decline, at least in the English speaking countries I'm familiar with. They all seem to have clickbait titles and are thin on detail.

        For me the lack of good magazines to serve as a gateway into technical books is what really stopped me buying glued together bits of dead tree.

    • This is typical for any business, at least in the US.

      Management will always try to keep their salaries high instead of sacrificing to keep talent on hand and try to find, fix, or create something new to allieviate the problem. I rarely find companies try to steer a different path because change requires actual work, teamwork, and people that actually care about the company, instead of just themselves and circle of friends working in said company.

      Too many places I've seen cut off key employees instead of the

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Friday February 16, 2018 @08:14PM (#56138914) Homepage

    I hate amazon. It's prevalence makes searching for other sellers harder. That said, B&N is no better.

    Barnes and Nobles used to be the best book store. That is why it outlasted all the other big chains.

    Now, when I go to a B&N, they give the same crappy service that the old chains do. They used to have a section for the new science fiction/fantasy books, not anymore. The new ones are shelved alphabetically. Same for Mysteries.

    As for the Nook, they do stupid things like storing samples as if they were books. When you read a sample, no link to buy the book (let alone opening the new book to the end of the sample and deleting the sample).

    Their service has gone down hill. They decided to try and out-cheap Amazon. They failed.

    • weird, cause amazon is full of third party sellers to the point it's impossible to buy something from amazon itself. they are the best thing to happen to small business in decades

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by gurps_npc ( 621217 )

        Note the word "third party seller". I'm the first party, Amazon is the SECOND party.

        Amazon inserted itself as a middleman into all those transactions. They are not the best thing to happen to small business - internet sales are the best thing.

        Amazon made it slightly easier for the seller by taking a slice of their profit and also making it MUCH harder for anyone that doesn't want to give Amazon that slice of the profit.

        Worse, it makes deep searches much harder. Do a search for anything that is for sale a

      • by Teckla ( 630646 ) on Friday February 16, 2018 @08:40PM (#56139102)

        weird, cause amazon is full of third party sellers to the point it's impossible to buy something from amazon itself. they are the best thing to happen to small business in decades

        Ugh, I avoid almost all of Amazon's third party sellers like the plague, because there are so damn many shady companies, many of them selling counterfeits, used items as new, broken items, etc. -- and Amazon does not seem particularly interested in policing the problem...

        • If you are an Amazon third party seller they charge outrageous fees that eats into your margin. Its not so great .

      • weird, cause amazon is full of third party sellers to the point it's impossible to buy something from amazon itself. they are the best thing to happen to small business in decades

        It's not impossible, or even difficult. It's really easy. If you can't manage a simple ecommerce transaction with competence I wonder if you can even tie your own shoelaces without fucking it up at least twice. Per foot.

    • by Teckla ( 630646 ) on Friday February 16, 2018 @08:42PM (#56139110)

      I started going to B&N less and less because it upset me that they wouldn't give me the good price unless I signed up for their damn club. I hate that shit.

      • If they didn't charge $50/year to sign up for their club, I would. I simply don't buy enough books to be worth it, and books are significantly cheaper at Costco and on Amazon.
        • Costco also charges you an annual membership fee... and Amazon does their damnedest to do the same thing.

          • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

            Both of those sell a *LOT* more than just books... You have to weigh up the cost of the membership fee against the total value of items you're going to buy there over the course of a year.

    • by pubwvj ( 1045960 )

      You, and other critics, act like Amazon is some single entity. Amazon is not. Instead, Amazon is more like a mall, a place where tens of thousands of resellers gather to serve hundreds of millions of customers. Amazon is simply the interface and provides services like sales tax computing, shipping, stocking, etc. When I buy on Amazon I'm typically buying from some business that is selling through Amazon. Even individuals like you and I can participate.

      Hating Amazon is like hating eBay, the city down the roa

  • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Friday February 16, 2018 @08:48PM (#56139140)
    I thought they had saved themselves with the Nook (unlike Borders). But their business model is fundamentally flawed; you can't compete with Amazon prices while paying high-end department store lease costs! In December, it looked like they were trying to be a toy store to bring margins up, but that didn't work for them either (and Toy-R-Us is going out of business too.) Can anybody compete with Amazon?
    • by AvitarX ( 172628 )

      I'm a printer, and we can.

      We have a customer that sells using Amazon fulfillment.

      It's cheaper to use us and have us ship packages to Amazon warehouses than to use Amazon.

    • When I was younger I was very angry with Borders for not developing an e-reader. I waited a good long while before buying a kindle and abandoning Borders as my place for book get. In retrospect, just being a huge bookseller probably didn't mean they had the clout to develop that kind of infrastructure.

      Then again, they did for a time feature Sony's struggling e-reader. Those two could probably have been able to meaningfully compete with the Kindle. Might not have mattered anyway; I stopped going there when t

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Obfuscant ( 592200 )

        I stopped going there when they scrapped Cafe Valos for Seattle's best and stopped carrying Vanilla Mystic Chai.

        You abandoned a bookstore because their coffee shop wasn't to your liking? Wasn't much of a bookstore then, was it? I mean, you should be going to a bookstore to buy books, not to sit around treating it like a library reading room while drinking coffee. You were turning all those "new" books into "used" books without the dealer being honest enough to sell them as such.

        • Depends on what you mean by books. Every weekend it had been my habit to drive to Borders, read some role-playing manuals, and then buy a novel. I stopped, well, partly it was the coffee shop, and partly it was because 4th edition of D&D came out. World of Dungeoncraft manuals are boring and not enjoyable to read through. They also just plain trimmed down the RPG section. Before then they had a lot of semi-obscure stuff like A|State.

          Did I particularly convert those manuals to 'used' status? Not to my kn

          • Depends on what you mean by books.

            What depends on that? You quoted nothing, so there is no context for that statement.

            Every weekend it had been my habit to drive to Borders, read some role-playing manuals, and then buy a novel.

            Those would be "books", as sold in a bookstore. Why did you think that you should be able to treat the bookstore like a library, other than their stupid decision to put a coffee shop and chairs in their bookstore?

            Did I particularly convert those manuals to 'used' status? Not to my knowledge;

            Yes, by using them you made them "used". They certainly weren't new anymore. This is worse with magazines, but books have the same issues. I've picked up "new" books (and magazines) that showed more wear and tear t

            • Fisking is lame.

              • Quoting what you are specifically replying to is good practice. What's lame is expecting bookstores to provide free reading of their wares and not paying them for the privilege, as is dismissing opposing ideas with sound-byte inanities.
    • Toys R Us is going through bankruptcy, but they have a huge debt load from a leveraged buyout and may be able to survive with that discharged.

    • Borders used the Kobo.

      Their real issue was that they never embraced online. In fact,their website was originally done through Target.

  • by rfengr ( 910026 ) on Friday February 16, 2018 @08:57PM (#56139194)
    B&N sells the books for list price, which is typically 50% over Amazon. That’s too damn much, physical store or not.
    • by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Friday February 16, 2018 @09:38PM (#56139440)

      B&N sells the books for list price, which is typically 50% over Amazon. Thatâ(TM)s too damn much, physical store or not.

      They are, however, about the only reliable periodical dealer left. You can still go in and pay cash for magazines you don't necessarily want connected to you.

      • by rfengr ( 910026 )
        They don’t have those top shelf magazines. Have to go to truck stops for those.
      • You can still go in and pay cash for magazines you don't necessarily want connected to you.

        Yeah, I don't want anyone to know I still read dead trees either. What year is it?

    • by CG_Man ( 993435 ) *
      Every time I thought of grabbing a book at B&N in the past few years, the price premium over Amazon -- and their own online store! -- prompted me to order online, usually from Amazon where Prime gets me a quick, free delivery. Too bad. I do enjoy sitting in their cafe from time to time reading or working on my laptop.
  • As somebody in successful, growing retail, I'm shocked at how management at so many big retailers make such bad decisions. Almost universally, they react to increased competition by cutting costs. They make a short term gain at the expense of the company. Almost every major, national retailer has, or is in the process of doing this. We went the other way, and we're competing just fine.
    • There's a certain amount of cash coming in. When that's reduced, the decision makers don't want to take a pay cut. So they cut costs. It just goes to show a) how good they are at managing and b) where their priorities lie (not with the long-term health of the organization).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There is something pleasing about being able to walk into a Barnes and Noble and look through physical books. Pick them up, leaf through them and make a purchase decision. Back when it was a war between Borders and B&N, B&N won handily with its quieter, classier atmosphere. HOWEVER - their pricing model is all kinds of messed up. They will not honor their internet price at their stores for local pickup. In this day and age, that is ass-backwards. To maintain relevance, they absolutely need to

  • by Stormy Dragon ( 800799 ) on Friday February 16, 2018 @09:39PM (#56139444) Homepage

    There's so many books that they can only possibly stock a tiny percentage of them in the store. Unless I'm going to by some just out best-seller, it's unlikely the book I want is going to be there.

    Sure I could order it, but then why not just order from Amazon? It takes the same amount of time to arrive at that point and I saved myself two trips to the mall.

    If brick and mortar book stars were going to survive, the needed to switch over to some sort of print on demand system like the Espresso Book Machine that could spit out any book a customer might want in an hour.

  • Providing good books at very low prices makes for a boom. Providing good books for high prices ensures failure. This happens all across all elements of the economy. Inflation is one issue and greed is a real kicker. For example anyone that can make a really good mid size motorcycle will earn billions if the machine is $1500 new out the door. Build a similar machine at $18,000 and you will struggle to stay alive. Many items would be more of a profit if it were simply much less expensive.
  • ...have libraries. Along with computers and scanners they will be able to preserve humankind's legacy.

  • My son was looking for a new book, went in and got him Hitchhikers Guide. Brought it to the checkout, $16???? for a 150 page book?

    • $16???? for a 150 page book?

      The cover price for the original 1979 edition of HHG was $6.95 []. That's well over $20 in today's dollars.

      • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

        The cover price for the original 1979 edition of HHG was $6.95 []. That's well over $20 in today's dollars.

        That sounds high. My memory of the baseline price of most novels from the late 80's to mid-90's is $5. In fact, I can remember an odd moment sometime around 1990 when I was looking at the original Dragonlance trilogy in a bookstore, and I found side-by-side on the shelves versions of the book marked $2.95, $3.95, and $4.95.

  • Much like Sears, B&N has been a walking zombie for way too long.

    - Prices too high
    - Selection/choice too minimal
    - Customer communication/experience continually degraded
    - Not really that much faster than ordering books same-day/overnight, don't have to find book in store or wait in line
    - Switch to online books was too little, too late

    Could B&N have saved itself? Sure. But, they kept pigeon holing themselves as a retailer and not a solution provider. The only real reason to keep going to a physical b

  • There is one near my work. I go there to browse at least once a week. If they all close it would suck.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    First, they fired a whole bunch of the warehouse and delivery types, deliberately sinking the lucrative holiday season with empty shelves.
    Then, "in response" to the massive loss of profit, they fire everyone making an actual - if meager - living from the stores.

    Not only is this blatant sabotage, but chances are those responsible are giving themselves large bonuses for having successfully fucked over workers and communities.
    How are these execs not impaled and on fire with their families for this? What the he

    • Because this is the culture and society we have created. A careless society. We could start executing people like in other countries, but then that will stifle innovation and encourage more incompetence. This is something no laws will fix. People need to change. I'm all for shaming these people in public like we used to do, but people just do not care.
  • by shess ( 31691 ) on Saturday February 17, 2018 @04:38AM (#56140788) Homepage

    I suggest B. Dalton or Waldenbooks. I hear Borders is alright, too.

  • by Kiliani ( 816330 ) on Saturday February 17, 2018 @05:49AM (#56140886)

    .. but probably will.

    Couple of points:

    Independent book stores can do well, Amazon or not. They can do very well indeed if they serve the local community, if they are book lovers/book worms (at least to some reasonable degree) and not just mere brainless peddlers of books. You don't need a large inventory to make this a good experience. Provide a good user/customer experience, add value. Don't sell candles. I actually think good board games are ok, but then know your games, too.

    Go, for example, to the Book People in Austin, Texas, in the U.S. (hey, this is slashdot, stop by when you go to SXS next time). It's actually a rather large store, by square footage, but the number of different books is not all that large by comparison. A fair percentage of the books there have been read by staff and they talk about these books. Lot's of hand-written cards telling you about the books, and all those books they recommend/have read are displayed with their front page, not their spines. In fact, I'd say that close to 1/2 their display space shows the fronts of books on the shelves, not their spines. Tells you how many fewer books per linear yard of shelf space they present. You'll find a good book every time you go. I do. (I don't live there, but I visit the store when I do go.). I know, this is Austin, and Austin is weird. Still, loose the pink hair and some of your tattoos/piercing, and this works wherever you want this to work.

    In Germany one of the most well-known chains (Hugendubel) went almost bankrupt when they went the way of B&N (or more precisely, Borders). The next generation took over the leadership of the chain, and it now looks like they will actually make it and do well again. Why? Store respond to the local needs, stores got more independence, they started selling books knowledgeably again, in fact, they make their new stores smaller again (you guessed it, fewer candles, cards and videos), etc. etc. Yes, they all have a café now (why not??), which they own and operate (no chain Joe there).

    Same with Blackwell in the UK. Although the Oxford store is crazy large and friggin' amazing ... Same problems here not too long ago, and a very similar solution. Amazon does not need to kill your business. But you *do* need to adapt.

    But people are right: if management sucks, they will take the business down sooner or later. Which is why B&N may well die –or rediscover its roots in NYC. We shall see, I wish them luck. I hope they reinvent themselves, which they can if they fire management and hire people who really *want* to sell books the right way.

    BTW, I always laugh at all the comments about Amazon. Don't get me wrong, they are too large, the know too much, they suck in many parts, yada yada yada. All true. Nonetheless, we buy a lot at Amazon. When do we do it? The price has to be right, it has to be much easier than to drive around town to get the item I need, and there is no need whatsoever that I inspect/try on/evaluate the item in person before I buy it. Which is one of the reasons why I basically stopped buying books at Amazon. They treat books like crap. Books arrive damaged so often that it is not funny. On top of that, Amazon has stopped being all that cheap to begin with. No books, no electronics, no clothing (God no!), no groceries (sorry, that's just plain silly), and many others. Nice to have Amazon if you break a leg, though. I often wind up at specialty retailers (brick and mortar or online) instead. I go window shopping at Amazon a lot and then buy elsewhere (the reverse of what many stores complain about ...). And yes, you can do this anonymously if you care to, even if that means you get a different price than the next Jane doing it – but that is true no matter what you do. Amazon games us. Game back as much as you can.

    On a side: if Amazon deploys high end AI to make shopping recommendations to me, I'd rather rely on the stray cat my partner feeds outside at the moment. Can't be worse than what the cat picks. Amazon's recommendations are just so utterly, utterly useless.

    If you are a nerd/engineer, it *is* fun to see the tech of their delivery chain in the warehouses.

    • B&N collapsing would be good for independents since it would leave the market open for them. Then you would have the businesses that are responsive to local needs that you desire. So, it could be a very positive thing. Why worry about it.

  • I'm really not much of a book buyer or reader, so I guess you could say I'm not the B&N target market anyway. Except I've had occasion to go in there for various things, including buying childrens' books as gifts for an employee's baby shower and a search, a while back, for what I thought was a real simple item; a loop to stick on a surface to act as a pen-holder.

    That pen-holder search was a huge fiasco.... Found the product I wanted on the B&N web site and it indicated my local store had it in sto

  • Cross-posting from SoylentNews: [] Hope someone will take these ideas up.

    Physical bookstores are not innovating enough to compete with Amazon and subsidiaries (Audible, The Book Depository, etc). I worry sometimes - I like wandering in secondhand bookshops, and don't like how few there are left. I speak to people working in bookstores and there's really nothing planned, except for spinning up a website.

    That won't work.

    Amazon started with books because books are the ultimate fu

  • A decade ago B&N marketed an eReader that was ahead of anything else on the market. Amazon was a year away from anything close to competitive to the inexpensive almost tablet that was the Nook Color. But what did B&N management do; they locked it into only doing business with the "Nook Store" and prevented installing standard Android Apps. Sorry bubba, walled gardens get neglected and turn into weed lots. I did a lot of business with B&N until they became the more expensive with less

"If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed." -- Albert Einstein