Thursday, June 23, 2016

What If Barnes and Noble Evaporated?

What would happen if Barnes and Noble went out of business? There has been a great deal of discussion flying though the interwebs the last few days. It started with an article on New Republic and snowballed from there. New Republic thinks it would be a disaster, and they give a lot of stats to back up their claim. However, a lot of their data is skewed to back up said claim, rather than giving real information. For example they compare book buying orders with a small single independent store with the entire Barnes and Noble chain. To do a realistic comparison you would compare one single store to another. I would suspect they would be about the same (buying one box of a particular title or two). They also don't talk about returns (which I will cover below).

Yes I agree it would be sad if B&N folded, any reader loves to go into a book store. It is like being a kid in a candy store, and surfing a website just isn't the same. However, it would not be a huge surprise if they did close.  Back when the first nook came out (still my favorite ereader ... well after I hacked it) it was great.  But even then they didn't listen to their customers.  We wanted better indexing and sorting methods.  And what did they give us?  Games!  Eventually B&N did give us "shelves" which helped somewhat.  But then they came out with Nook Color and firmware updates for the original Nook was abandoned.  Even though they were still selling them in the stores.  If you hacked it, and used an alternate library app, WOW you could find things so much easier and could even add tags.  It would have been simple to add these features yet B&N never did.  And they abandoned the hardware right after a newer model came out.  Look at Amazon, they are STILL supporting almost every Kindle model they ever made.

Then right after the Nook Color came out, B&N borked the website. People complained, they ignored, and borked it even more.  It always seems like they do the exact opposite what their customers want.  And they wonder why they are losing money?  Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

B&N customer service has fallen on its face and keeps trying to walk, pushing its face further into the sand. There are other cases of people calling in and either asking for help or better yet, asking for the reduced price of a book when the did a pre-order and B&N could only say "we don't price match".  But this was THEIR price they promised yet charged full price instead and wouldn't budge.  Amazon by contrast would say "oh sorry, here is your money".  Or "Broken Kindle?  Gosh that is terrible, here is a new one."  They get it.  And I wish B&N would.  It is a real shame too, because I would like to see them succeed not go into chapter 11.  But something will fill the gap eventually, if they do. Before Walmart there was Wards and Sears. Both in their heyday, the largest retailers in the country. Now both are struggling to survive. Markets change, and you either adapt or die. The death knell is always "we know better than our customers." Amazon knows that the customer is king and is how they are burying their competition.

And now about returns.  Most publishers give up to 90 days to return a book for FULL credit.  So while a publisher may make a big sale with B&N, three months later most of it may go poof (and cost you more in shipping to get the books returned it they are hardbacks).  While publishers can specify no returns, most book stores will not buy no return books unless they are known best sellers.  I don't know of any other industry where you can return a product (or even just PART of the product aka just the front cover of a paperback book) for 90 days if it didn't sell.  Yet that is the core of the book industry.

I really wish B&N would wake up, but after so many CEO's and other management changes, the same behavior remains. Perhaps they can pull a rabbit out of their hat, but first they would need to find a rabbit. It is funny in a way, they are bumbling around in the dark with a flashlight they refuse to turn on because they think they know what is in front of them. But paths change and one needs to learn from mistakes not continue on blindly. Regardless, if they do evaporate something else will take their place. It may not be the same, but readers, and the industry will survive.

Don DeBon is the author of Red Warp, Time Rock, and Soulmates.  Currently available on Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, and other retailers. 

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