August 25, 2022
Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt has defended a new buying policy that some book industry insiders say only leads to chain storage new releases of hardcovers from best-selling authors.
Mr. Daunt’s comments came in response to outrage expressed by many authors and publishers over the past week on social media.
Mid-level fiction titles and, to a lesser extent, young adult and adult fiction titles that often don’t appear on bestseller lists are particularly affected by the new policy. In-store navigation on hardcovers is considered by many to be essential to establishing new authors.
Since taking over as CEO in 2019, Mr. Daunt has helped revitalize B&N in part by empowering store managers to determine where books are placed and order quantities to better align assortments with local tastes. The chain also eliminated cooperative title placement practices, as unpopular titles received heavy placement and resulted in excessive return rates.
Asked about the new buy position, Mr. Daunt said u80% of average quality hardcovers purchased by B&N are routinely returned unsold to publishers, and return rates for adult fiction were only slightly lower.
He said Weekly editors“B&N for many years abrogated that responsibility, filling its stores with anything and everything and returning what didn’t sell.”
New titles are replaced by popular paperbacks. B&N encouraged the release of certain titles to reach younger audiences via paperbacks earlier or even with the first release. Mr Daunt said Publisher Marketplace“At a lower price, and in a more kid-friendly format themselves, some titles that will struggle to sell in more than very small quantities in hardcover will be better served if released in paperback.
According to Daunt, the reduction in stock of slow-selling hardcovers promises to leave more space on the shelves for new authors who may break out, with the decision to stock fewer titles but more in demand, which will stimulate overall book sales.
The changes come as hardcover sales slowed after reading took off during the pandemic shutdowns. Some also see the BookTok trend encouraging managers to feature related older titles in stores.
Many industry insiders still wonder if readers can experience new and diverse voices without the hardcover launches that often benefit from amped-up marketing.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of Barnes & Noble’s move to focus on best-selling hardback books and otherwise focus on paperback sales? How important is hardcover merchandising to finding new authors?
“The CEO of Barnes & Noble is doing what is necessary to move B&N forward. Perhaps the industry needs to look at new ways to market authors and hardcover books.”
“Given the precarious business environment for booksellers, this approach seems measured and considered.”
“I think it’s not only bad for authors, publishers and the evolution of literature, but it’s a deadly business strategy.”