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Barnes & Noble Set To Be Sold To Elliott Management For About $683M (npr.org)
256 points by selimthegrim 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 194 comments





So, before we doom and gloom about B&N, it's important to remember that independent bookstores are doing great! https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/why-independent-bookstores-haved-...

So why is Barnes and Nobles struggling? A couple of important points:

Their inventory and footprint IS HUGE. Large inventory with low turnover is a margin-killer in retail. And I doubt they make much money off the books in their shelves - real money is in the piled selection and special coffee table books and new features and what have you.

Wide inventory is their advantage over the smaller stores, but it comes at a huge cost and forces them to keep prices high. Remember, in retail, selection costs money consumers have to pay. Smaller stores can get away with a random selection and stacking books all over the place (the hunt is part of the experience). If someone can't find a copy of the Republic at B&N, they probably lost a customer.

I suspect they will switch over to a more curated model (like AmazonBooks) - basically only new and select books. Smaller store, less footprint, and less product to buy and eat costs on. And then they can compete on costs more.


> It's important to remember that independent bookstores are doing great!

The independent stores that you think are doing great are not what many fans of independent bookshops are thinking of by the words “independent bookstores”.

I fondly look back on certain 1990s independent bookshops that had enormous stock, and books were all they sold. But these days, many independent bookshops have trimmed their book inventories to a bare minimum of “new and select books” like you speak of. Small bookshops have felt the same pressures as the large chains, and in the place of actual books come things like vinyl records, Kikkerland products, and fancy teas. That might help them stay afloat financially, but for actual book lovers, it feels like the soul has been ripped out of the shop, like the proprietors are not bibliophiles themselves.


This depresses me.

One of the reasons I don't like B&N is because I feel it's a store no longer dedicated to books. They have books, but it's also a gift store, a toy store, and a stationery store. From just my estimate, I feel about 40 percent of its floor-space is for non-book items.

Another book chain in Canada, Indigo Books, operates similarly.

I think the last bastions for book-lovers are used bookstores. Also, Powell's in Portland seems quite dedicated to selling books of all sorts.


Powell’s is more of a tourist destination. Buy a mug, tote bag, shirt and 3 hardbacks you’ll probably never even read. Plus they’ve made some pretty poor financial decisions. Had to scrap renovating and expanding into a nearby building. Lots of layoffs. If they didn’t own their building they’d be long gone.

I did hear some rumbles about how their nonunion employees were mad at conditions. I am sad their technical bookstore went the way of the dodo.

Yeah I used to live a few blocks from Powell's Technical about 10 years ago. What a place.

What was great about it?

For someone who grew up in the middle of nowhere Florida, being able to walk somewhere that had not just a book or 2 on any technical topic imaginable but 2 SHELVES full was amazing.

I bought my graduate physics textbooks there

Their technical bookshop was awesome. I remember spending many hours there in the late 90s

I once went to Dussmann in Berlin (https://www.kulturkaufhaus.de). IMO, this is what a modern bookstore should be like.

C'mon, that's too high a bar. I was there a few months ago (went twice in a week and spent some non-trivial time). While, Dussman has unparalleled selection of books (it's a 4-storied bookstore after all), they are also a gargantuan gift store (the 5th floor, and throughout the other floors). They have a dizzying array of expensive crap to lure consumers. I was there in November, and by Jove, was it teeming with shoppers.

That said, I still loved the incredible bookstore, and the co-located English store. Not to mention the huge vertical garden, with some 600 plant species. Definitely worth visiting, whether you're a bibliophile, or not.


Notably they don’t consider themselves a bookstore. Their claim is “kulturkaufhaus” which roughly translates to “culture shopping center.” They have a large section of DVDs, Music and other stuff. Their comic book section is pitifully small, though.

True, that's indeed the word I was looking for, "kulturkaufhaus". (I was trying to recall the exact word, and didn't bother to look up. Thanks.)

Wow that sounds amazing.

I like the Soviet-style Karl-Marx-Buchhandlung better if it's still around (it was featured as a location in The lifes of others I believe).

They also hollowed out the center of the store to create a Nook store-within-a-store, at least in most locations I know of.

A major independent store in Denver, Tattered Cover, dropped from being spread across 2 large floors down to 1 smaller floor, and I heard the once had 3 floors of the building they’re in. They seem to have focused on keeping the best books in stock though, subjectively speaking. But a decent part of that space is also coffee shop, periodicals, etc as well. I think they also lost any space for authors to come do readings.


A must is Tsutaya in Daikanyama (Tokyo). I could spend days in there.

https://store.tsite.jp/daikanyama/english/


Yeah the added gifts (wine, chocolates, etc.) was actually their tactic to grab youth as a final effort before going down.

They switched over long ago.

There are far fewer shelves of books now. Of the books they do have, they are optimized for profit -- ranging from best sellers, new books by genre, and those few books from big authors that sell year over year.

Most of these books are now trade paperback instead of mass market paperback. I go in needing to get Tom Sawyer and the only option they have is $15.95.

They took the computers out where I could look up a book.

If I manage to find a series of books I want, there is a good chance the first book in the series is missing, since that is the most likely to be purchased. I could then ask at the counter, where they'll tell me they can order it for me.

The shelves themselves have fewer, larger books -- many place front cover out -- occupying fewer shelves. There is just no hunt left in B&N anymore. There is no discovery of something from the back catalog.


They stopped having a "new releases" part of their main sections, so if I want to find a new release in SF/Fantasy it means having to look at all the books in that section.

Granted, that section is a lot smaller now, with books front-cover-out, as you say. But it's still kind of a sucky move for steady customers.

I used to visit the local B&N every week. Now it's down to every few months, when I know exactly what I want to find there. And the B&N is about a quarter toys and board games now (this is not an exaggeration). We're down to two bookstores in our city of 600K+ people, hard to believe.


I had the same experience. One of the main reasons I went to B&N was to look at the new books. Now that they are hidden, there is little point to going in there.

I asked a manager about it, and they told me it was a corporate directive.


Borders did the same re-arrangement about a year before they went under. There used to be a half-bookshelf or so of "released this week" titles where any regular customer could walk in and immediately see and grab a new book by a favorite author, or maybe a new book by an unfamiliar author. Nope, you had to search the whole section.

I really wonder if these corporate directives are made by people who like bookstores, or read.


There's been a lot of C-Suite cat fighting at B&N - mostly between minority owner Leonard Riggio and various revolving CEOs he's brought in and then fired. See e.g.

http://fortune.com/2018/08/29/former-ceo-parneros-sues-barne...

Honestly I'm amazed Riggio got as much as he did for the sale. I suppose there's a fair amount of value in the property portfolio, but the book business as a whole is in a very rocky place.


> There are far fewer shelves of books now.

Mine has the same number of shelves as far as I can tell, but reduced the overall number of books on a given shelf. They keep the shelves looking full by drastically increasing the number of books with outward-facing covers.

I know it sounds like a minor change, but it really gives me an uncanny valley feeling.


Most of them have sections of games and toys that used to be book shelves. The former nook area is taken over by diary/journals and artsy stuff. Twenty years ago, all of that was books.

Something I've noticed is that small bookstores, particularly used bookstores, cram in way more books per square foot of floor space. Books from floor to ceiling, often with so many shelves crammed into the building that you wonder if the average-sized American can actually squeeze into the store. I wager I've seen some used bookstores smaller than my college dorm room with more books than a B&N.

It's a cozier atmosphere too, more conducive to hanging out for a while digging around for things that look interesting. An all around more enjoyable experience than B&N or Borders ever were.


>I suspect they will switch over to a more curated model (like AmazonBooks) - basically only new and select books. Smaller store, less footprint, and less product to buy and eat costs on. And then they can compete on costs more.

That's understandable, but a bit of a bummer. Part of the joy of B&N is being able to just go and browse--finding something you didn't know you were looking for.

With it downsized, I imagine we'll get something closer to the bookstore at an airport: nothing but the most recent Tom Clancy novels and such.

I suppose the best-case scenario would be like your neighborhood comic book store, where you can place the order and B&N would ship it to store from one of their warehouses.


Why would I want to come back to the store that couldn’t provide me the product on the first visit?

If my book is going to be shipped, it’s almost surely going to be shipped to my house, whether by B&N or by Amazon...


> nothing but the most recent Tom Clancy novels

I feel this is less likely to be a valid business strategy since 2013.


In the long run, most book stores are doomed. There's no way around it no matter how nostalgic some are for physical books - the medium is an obsolete novelty with the advent of smartphones/tablets. Some book stores will remain but it'll be a niche thing like vinyl records and horseback riding.

This common prediction has not at all been borne out by facts. Physical books still remain popular -- maybe not as popular as thirty years ago, but there's a lot of reasons why that would be the case (general availability of entertainment from competing media). Most importantly, there was a 2017 study that showed that young children prefer reading physical books to reading books electronically.

Physical books have been with us much longer, culturally speaking, than vinyl records were. We're talking millennia. It's going to take much more than the iPad to kill them off.


The iPad isn't the right comparison.

The eInk device is a better comparison, and according to research(1) it's comparable in most ways to paper reading, but it has some problems with helping people maintain chronological order.

So eBooks as good as books don't seem so far off.

(1)https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.0003...


We've ridden horses longer than we've had books, and it took some time for cars to replace horses but it did happen after a while.

I don't know anyone who reads significant numbers of books on smartphone/tablets. It's either print books, ebooks, or audiobooks. And looking at print book sales over the last decade, there hasn't been a consistent downwards trend.

Personally, I like to buy print books because I can give them away to friends or family after I read them. I also get a lot of print books from my local library, because there's nearly always less of a wait than for ebooks, due to the obnoxious DRM/copyright terms that ebooks for libraries entail.


The combination of form-factor and genre makes a huge difference in how I consume books.

For instance, I have no trouble reading most fiction on either my Kindle or my phone - I'm reading through in a linear fashion, and there usually isn't much besides text. I usually don't have to hold every detail in my head, and can just flow along.

If I get into non-fiction, that is usually where I switch over to either print, or failing that, reading on my computer. Sometimes I can get by with my large-format Kindle DX clone, but that can be dicey. With non-fiction, there is usually a lot more paging back and forth; I may be reading a paragraph, and want to go back and double-check a map or table of figures, or re-read a section that I didn't grok the first time. There might also be footnotes or endnotes that one wants to skip to, and the experience isn't great in most reading apps. It's also considerably easier to read non-fiction on a larger screen or a textbook-size physical copy, I find - for instance, any kind of programming book usually has large blocks of code listings, and looking at those on a 27" 1080p monitor or a physical book where I can see the whole thing at full size, on two facing pages, is much easier than on a 5" phone screen.


Personally, I have read a few thousand books but I have not bought a physical book for myself in years.

When I ride the subway and I see a lot of people reading on devices and relatively few books. Book sales seem to be propped up by gifts, where regular readers love the convenience.

This is especially true of older readers who love being able to increase the fount size.


>before we doom and gloom about B&N, it's important to remember that independent bookstores are doing great

It’s funny watching a movie like You’ve Got Mail today when the trend was reversed. That movie hasn’t aged well for many reasons now that I think about it.


If the bookstore setting is played out, perhaps something fresher would be a perfume store? Or a music store? Or a leather goods retailer? These all still exist! :)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikl%C3%B3s_L%C3%A1szl%C3%B3#P...


F O X


Crazy idea in alternate universe... Turn all Barnes & Nobles into libraries.

Or you could just go to your local library in this universe. They still exist.

Actual idea: Treat your local bookstore like a library. They don't care if you read their books as long as you stay in store and are respectful. Plus they have actual up to date selection with no waiting list for new releases. And spending money at the cafe is probably higher margin for them anyway.

That used to be more of a thing in the 1990s. The big chains used to have lots of seating, even sofas, and as a fast reader who can read a typical 300 page book in a couple of hours, I used to spend most of my weekends reading books for free in big bookstores. They've wised up. There isn't a lot of seating these days.

Ya, on my reading for english classes I'd do that for my reading assignments. For my engineering and programming classes, i'd take copious notes. It was entirely wonderful. I'd stay at the store from open till close and enjoy all those hours.

Guess our bookstore is just behind the times then, because ours has a really big cafe with nice chairs and tables and such. I've read 200+ books there in the past decade.

Edit: I guess I should also mention that ours was a Borders and then after they went out of business it reopened as a Books-A-Million maybe a year later. I think it was something else before it was Borders, but that was before my time.


The largest book store chain in Saint Petersburg just has cafes inside some of the stores, where you can sit with the books.

I've never seen a library in a mall with the latest & greatest books. That'd be sweet!

The selection is too poor.

Which become internet kiosks for the homeless.

Last year I wanted to buy Thinking in Bets (great book, btw). I was feeling impatient, so I looked it up on Barnes and Noble's website, and saw that a store where I was had it in stock.

I went in to purchase it, and the price in store was a couple bucks higher than the listed price online. I asked the clerk about it, and he kind of shrugged and said he couldn't do anything about it.

I walked out without the book and ordered it from Amazon on my phone in the parking lot.

I still can't fathom the decision-making that led to that pricing strategy.


I can’t fathom the decision-making that led to spending the time to go down to the store for some instant gratification and then leaving over a $2 difference.

Because you don't want to reward bald-faced manipulation. It's not about saving two dollars.

It’s not manipulation. They mention the price difference on their website:

https://help.barnesandnoble.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/3265...

Beyond that, the in-store price is considered to be the “normal” pricing. You are getting a discount on the website.


So instead you reward amazon treating its employees terribly.

No, the reward is for the convenience.

They are both really convenient though.

What do you call the manipulation that amazon does then?

Reliability and sound logic are big for me. Amazon is more consistent in that that are always squeezing.

I don’t like a company that sometimes squeezes and sometimes caresses.


Presumably it was the principle of the matter. Bait and switch generally being seen in a negative light...

probably spent $2 in gas too... but sometimes it's just principles.

Sunk cost fallacy? At the very least he learned to not bother going to that bookstore for future purchases.

Unless he doesn't want to wait for the book... which is the reason he said he went there to begin with. Doesn't Amazon also charge extra to get your stuff faster (Prime subscription)?

It actually costs them a ton of money to physically label the prices on each book. B&N adds their own sticker over the top of the MSRP when they receive the book. Changing the sticker every time the online price is changed would cost them a small fortune.

If you're ever wondering why the online price differs from the in-store price by a significant amount, usually it's not because the retailer is trying to gouge you. It's because they would have to pay to have the shelves re-tagged. Retailers don't use the regular store associates to re-tag shelves. Instead they usually have roving teams of contractors who go around retagging everything on the store shelves periodically.

The only way to really eliminate this is using electronic shelf labels, and that's quite impossible in a bookstore. Much of their inventory is thinner than the tags themselves.


He’s not complaining about the price tag not matching the online price. He’s complaining about the cashier applying the tag price and not the lower price advertised online. I also find it confusing when retailers apply different prices online and at physical stores, unless the fact that the online price is different is very clearly stated.

but would you find it weird if one physical location charges a different price to another store at a different physical location?

For some kinds of retail businesses I do expect one price independent of the location within the country. Not for groceries, of course, but I do expect consistent pricing in Zara or Ikea.

I see no reason to expect people in lower cost locales to subsidize people in higher cost locales.

Companies that apply a nation-wide pricing scheme do see a reason, I guess.

Few retailers selling sufficient quantities of high margin goods might do it, but most need to factor in local costs such as labor, property tax, and rent. Especially once the gap in costs diverge significantly between regions.

And no bats an eye at paying more at a restaurant in SF or Manhattan.

Half price books has solved this in a rather ingenious way: they just sell the book for half of what the MSRP is on the cover. No need to tag anything, decent markup, and the price data is already there/doesn’t need to be created. It’s little efficiencies like this that make HPB one of the most successful brick and mortar bookstores out there.

Selling books for half does not sound lik "decent" markup lol.

Considering they buy the books from people for something like 10% of the MSRP, it is definitely a decent markup for them.

Sounds more like the markup in MSRP is something like 500%. Which is not unexpected in retail.

The longer you have to hold inventory, the more markup you should apply. Books probably have a fantastically long tail if you sort each one by rate of books sold per month or per year. Some books may sit on the shelves for several years before someone comes along and buys it.

B&N doesn’t put their own price stickers over the MSRP / barcode. In certain sections they would have an X% off on the top-right of the front cover like new and best seller hard-covers, and specific prices on the discounted/remaindered looking stuff, but that’s also on the front cover. The main sections divided by topic (which is all full price) don’t have any stickers. They just sell stuff at full price and then apply discounts if you’re a member (only 10%), coupons etc.

Borders did put a sticker on every book. 2nd & Charles does too.


Then at that point paying a couple of dollars for them to maintain inventory at a physical location in a strip mall is probably razor thin. Retail space typically costs significantly more than equivalently sized warehouse space.

Books all have barcode with entries in their POS linked database, why not just have the current price linked to it? When I used to work for BN during my college days, that's how it worked. When a book was on sale, there was no need to re-tag the books, it was just a database update.

Home Depot has solved this in their appliances section. They now have e-ink screens on everything.

What's confusing? Shipping a book from a warehouse is cheaper and maintaining a website is cheaper than setting up and selling from a physical store. If I order a book online, I don't want to subsidize the walk in customers.

What makes it confusing is that you can check local store inventory online, order online at the online price and pickup in an hour from the store. However if you grab the book yourself from the physical store and save them a step, they absolutely won’t honor the online price. You have to order online and wait an hour while they take the book off the shelf for you. Or you get exasperated with the ridiculousness of the whole thing and buy from amazon leaving b&n with no sale.

> However if you grab the book yourself from the physical store and save them a step

The average customer gettibg the book themselves rather than ordering it and picking up at the counter is imposing more cost (and that's even more true of the average in-store customer, who probably hasn't searched online for a particular title and checked inventory and then decided not to do online purchase and pickup; by doing that you are making yourself indistinguishable, from a pricing policy perspective, from a much more expensive to serve class of customer.)


I feel like the response then is to get the manager and do so in front of them.

If you pick it up directly from the store you pay for the convenience of having the item right now.

They should at least be price matching their own website.

They don't want to make to convenient for you to get the online price at the store. They want to force your to the extra step of ordering and waiting.

I can’t think of any other retailer that does this. Best Buy, Walmart, Famous Footwear, Bed Bath and Beyond, etc. all honor the same prices in person as they do online.

Best Buy got in to legal trouble because they'd point 'bestbuy.com' from within the store to a different online store with prices that matched the in-store prices (i.e. higher prices).

No, not all of them.

Over the past few years, products at my local Best Buy are regularly 20-40% more than on their site. (Unless you order through the site for local pickup... then you can get the online price.)

Walgreens is the same. Might be $12 online but $18 in my local store.

Barnes and Noble is pretty par for the course in this.


My experience is that BestBuy will price match bestbuy.com, Newegg and Amazon. Their price match policy says they match: Amazon.com, Crutchfield.com, Dell.com, HP.com, Newegg.com, and TigerDirect.com, but I’ve gotten them to match online.

My experience with the office supply places and Target is that they'll happily match their online price, but the in store price is generally higher on items that aren't specifically on sale - sometimes dramatically so. Not sure about Best Buy, but they'll match a bunch of other online retailers so I'm more likely doing that anyway.

I'm surprised by the experience related here - I'd absolutely expect the store to price match online when asked about it even though I believe they were separate divisions.


Target does this. The price of certain online items sometimes varies in store, but they at least inform you of it on their website.

The Target mobile app is more opaque about this.

If you have accepted location permissions for the Target app, the app will show the in-store price when it can tell you're in a store.

The only way of knowing this is that in smaller/lighter print under the price, it'll either say "Online" or whatever store location.

The most egregious example was an item I bought that cost 40% more in-store versus online, and you'd never know had you looked at the app.


i also noticed the app matching the in-store price based on location. and yup, store employees will match online prices without question, but only if you ask.

i don't shop there much anymore, but i've done bopus (buy online, pick up in store) before to get the online price directly.


On top of the stores others have mentioned, Costco seems to have randomly different prices between their physical stores and their online store. (With the physical store more frequently being the cheaper price.)

They strongly imply that the difference is the shipping being included in the online price. In-store displays often say "May be available on costco.com at a shipped price."

And still, nearly all retailers have adopted a price-matching policy that matches not just their own website, but competitors as well.

There's really not a good reason for their in-store price to be higher than their online price in 2019.


There's really not a good reason for their in-store price to be higher than their online price in 2019.

Think of the price match as a coupon that you have/know about but others don't. The store is content to sell you the item at a discount (they likely still make money and they keep you coming to them) but they'd still prefer to sell to you at the higher price.


Not sure if you are aware, but matching competitor prices is actually anti-consumer. It's counterintuitive but it means that your competitors won't lower the price on the first place. Kinda like implicit price fixing.

It's actually not - if a competitor thinks it can sell more widgets at a lower price and make it up in the increase volume, they will lower the price. If that's the price which maximizes revenue for them, they'll leave it. It's straight forward supply and demand.

I agree it’s anti-consumer in some significant ways. I think of it as not competing as vigorously as you could on price, by publicizing that for the consumers who are willing to do extra work, that you’ll eventually honor the best price they found at a qualifying competitor, but that you’re not going to be the one who initiates the first salvo in the price war.

It's competing as much as you need to to make the sale, not competing as much as you can.

You’re gonna have a bad time in business if you think the objective is to lower the price as much as possible without regard for what the market is paying.

Indeed if I thought that, which I see no evidence to suggest that I do.

I don't think this argument refutes the previous point (which I found surprising, but I think is a good one). Normally, if a competitor lowers prices to undercut me, they will sell more widgets because people will switch to them. But with price matching, they know they won't sell more widgets (because people won't switch), so they keep their price high, which enables me to do so as well.

This is of course a very stylized/idealized argument, but I think it's a good point to consider.


It's deceptive, if you're going to advertise a price make it clear that the price is online only.

That I absolutely agree with. They should do that.

the value of the book doesn't change depending on its distribution channel

Of course the value of a book changes based on the distribution channel.

Immediacy has value, so if you need something _now_ you will be willing to pay for that.

Also, you have to pay in time and money to go to the store, so you _may_ be willing to pay more to have the book delivered.

In both situations, the way the book gets to you changes the price you're willing to pay.


The value of "shipping fees" changes depending on speed, but those are always separate from the cost of the actual item being purchased.

Absolutely does. The experience of going to a bookstore, browsing through the shelves, perhaps reading a few pages while sitting on a comfortable couches, perhaps talking to a knowledgeable salesperson about books (or life or anything), definitely has value. And I believe that value is greater than the convenience of ordering books online and then having to wait a 1-14 days for the book to deliver.

> perhaps talking to a knowledgeable salesperson about books

You aren’t likely to talk to a knowledgeable salesperson at a chain bookseller, as generally they are not big book fans. They just needed a job, and these chains will hire just about anyone who can competently work their POS systems.

I can understand certain independent bookshops having great additional value to customers because their proprietors and the other clerks were voracious readers. However, for Borders/Barnes & Noble/Waldenbooks, and various other US chains, their staff has been generally unable to talk in any depth on books since at least the 1990s when I first visited them.


You aren’t likely to talk to a knowledgeable salesperson at a chain bookseller, as generally they are not big book fans. They just needed a job, and these chains will hire just about anyone who can competently work their POS systems.

As somebody who spends a ridiculous amount of time at my local Barnes & Noble store (I work from their cafe a lot, but also come here to buy books a lot), and who has gotten to know most of the staff here pretty well, I would say that this does not jibe with my (n=1) experience. It doesn't prove anything, but the people who work here (the New Hope Commons store, in Durham, NC) are quite often bibliophiles, and/or are very knowledgeable about books and/or quite a few other things. One of the baristas is a masters student in Data Science and always points out to me if some new techie book has shown up on the shelves that he thinks I might be interested in. Several of the employees are also authors in their own right, and I just finished one of their books which was, if not exactly great, definitely at least worth reading. Another lady ran one of the first ISP's somewhere in the midwest back in the day, and knows all sorts of interesting stuff. Amazingly she didn't know about the show Halt & Catch Fire until I mentioned it to her the other day.

Anyway, I digress... the point is just that at this one store, at least, there is a staff of people who are quite knowledgeable/interesting and make it worth coming in, in order to interact with them.


Barnes & Noble actually used to have pretty knowledgeable and devoted booksellers at least in some areas and despite pretty crappy pay. Those were the people who just love books and they were willing to take the low pay for a job in an industry that they were attached to. From a business standpoint though that meant that you had people who would stay at the store for much longer than is common in a lot of retail settings.

That really changed after a disappointing 2017 holiday season when they laid off close to 2000 mostly long term employees in February 2018. They basically dumped a lot of long-term employees and hired much less experienced basic retail workers if they hired anyone at all. There was actually a fair amount of angst about it at the time particularly among bibliophiles.

A trenchant but insightful review of events from the time: https://audreyii-fic.tumblr.com/post/170886347853/the-entire...


Then why does every online store allow you to pay more for faster shipping?

> Last year I wanted to buy Thinking in Bets (great book, btw). I was feeling impatient, so I looked it up on Barnes and Noble's website, and saw that a store where I was had it in stock.

> I went in to purchase it, and the price in store was a couple bucks higher than the listed price online.

If you looked at in on the web and saw that it was in stock, it also had a “buy online and pick up at X store” button on the results page online, which is both more convenient and avoids the problem you relate (they've had that feature for years, and I just tested and it's still there now.)

The in store price is probably higher because people coming in, going through the stacks and de-merchandising books, asking questions, etc., cost more to service, and would be even more unsustainably unprofitable if online prices, which are for sales that don't have those costs associated were charged (meanwhile, online sales would be uncompetitive if in-store prices were charged.)


Going off topic. I looked up that book on Amazon and one critical review said it was the same thing repeated over and over and he could sum up the book's advice in one paragraph:

Make a decision as if you are betting all of your money on your choice. Don't take shortcuts based on your inborn biases and seek contrarian opinions and experienced counsel. Don't blame bad luck on bad outcomes; figure out how you could have made a better informed decision. Oh, and surprise, surprise, join groups with participants who have had similar experiences and expertise who can critique your choices and illuminate your blindspots. There you go.

Was he wrong?


Yes and no. You could summarize 'The Wealth of Nations' the same way and it would also sound pretty basic and not worth the 800+ page read. I agree in general that 'Thinking in Bets' is conceptually thin, in the sense that there's a high text-to-ideas ratio, but there's some value in reading all of that. Duke does a good job of describing her own thoughts and experiences, in a way that makes you want to actually apply those ideas in your own life (rather than just read about them). A better book on the topic is 'Fooled by Randomness.' It's much more conceptually dense and covers a lot of the same ideas.

That makes sense alright. The fooled by randomness does sound more interesting.

Maybe you ended up ordering on Amazon on principle, but FWIW you can order from B&N online and do in-store pickup

People are usually prepared to pay a bit more to get something right away vs. in a few days.

It works out great (usually) for the impatient, but terribly for the patient that are aware of their options.


The problem is that as a lazy person, waiting a day or two for something to be delivered straight to my doorstep is less effort than having to go to a store to pick something up.

Why does this work out terribly for the patient?

It's not like you're going to die if you don't get the book you want in 2 days, or even 3-7 business days. (Not that I buy physical books anymore typically, but it applies to other items)

People have just grown very impatient over time. I found myself getting annoyed that I wasn't receiving some items in 1 day (in Korea), until I reflected on what I actually was getting annoyed over.

Personally I find myself buying things on amazon or gmarket simply to avoid having to drive to the store.


Are you sure the one online was the same imprint and trim size as the one in-store? Publishers often have multiple different imprints and trim sizes as a means of price discrimination, as well as for stylistic reasons.

Just the other week I went into Barnes & Noble to purchase a book and they had two different trim sizes of the same exact book right next to each other. Both paperback but one was large-and-thin while the other was small-and-thick. The former was about $4 more than the latter.


Barnes & Noble online is run as a completely different business than the brick and mortar stores. The prices are not posted to match on any items. Brick & Mortar stores will not honor any online posted prices because of this strategy.

I had the exact same thing with a D&D book. I don't remember which (it was 5th ed, so fairly recent), but online it was equal to the Amazon price. In person it was like $10-20 more, and yeah, wouldn't price match.

Taught me to never look at B&N for a book I wanted again. I only ever go in there now when I happen to pass one with time to kill and just want to browse.


This is norm in europe with most online stores (especially smaller ones) that have physical store.

It makes sese to me since i dont have to pay for shipping.


From the parking lot? In your car? With which you spent $2 in gas to travel there and back?

This boils down to voting with your dollars, the root comment didn't like B&N's business practice and gave their business to someone else.

I mean $2 seems fair for them to hold it in inventory and take the risk.

Indie publisher here. I deal with B&N through several programs they offer. They have real market power in areas like college bookstores and sales to schools. I think it's possible to view the website and its ebook platforms as brimming with a lot of untapped opportunity.

And while they sometimes have some fantastic initiatives, they really struggle with execution, such as the launch of their self-serve ad platform in February (http://leanmedia.org/bn-botches-ad-platform-rollout-can-it-r...). The print-on-demand launch (http://www.barnesandnobleinc.com/press-release/6_28_16_nook_...) was also a miss, which I think relates to its siloed and bureaucratic nature.


> They have real market power in areas like college bookstores and sales to schools.

They used to, but Barnes and Noble (ticket: BKS) (the firm being discussed here) does not, AFAIK, any more, because Barnes and Noble Education (ticker: BNED) was spun off in 2015, and is a separate public company.


To save anyone the trouble, the book value (no pun intended) is only $474 million. You'd think the inventory alone would would be work more than the average $675K per store that you get if you assume their other assets (minus debt) are worth nothing.

Most of the books in a major bookstore like B&N are returnable. They're not actually owned by the bookstore (at least not permanently, and not outright). If the book doesn't sell within a specified period of time, the publisher will take it back.

Hardcovers are generally returned intact. Paperbacks and magazines often just require that the retailer tear off the cover and return that, while destroying (at least in theory) the rest of the book. That's why you sometimes see that warning in the front of paperback books and magazines about not buying it if its cover has been removed... unscrupulous retailers will sometimes strip the cover, return it for credit, then sell the stripped book on the black market.


Can you expand on what the implication of your comment is?

Book value on the balance sheet is ~$474 million, but that doesn't seem particularly meaningful in a valuation context for the business (especially considering the ~$1,123 million they are carrying for treasury stock).

As for inventory, they have that carried on their books for ~$1,000 million, which also means very little without a broader context on the state of the business.


Thank god. Their website is so bad that it’s almost like they are trying not to sells books.

Last week I had a gift card for BN that I needed to use, and tried to buy an audiobook on bn.com from my iPhone. It was damn near impossible to find anything and I still don’t know how to search for an audiobook.

Such a shame, as I used to love their physical stores.

Hopefully these folks will do a much better job.


https://m.barnesandnoble.com/b/audiobooks/_/N-2cnc?sk_page=d... is what came up when I typed “audiobook” into the search box. There’s an entire section.

Yes, but let’s say you’re a George Soros fan and want to buy one of his audio books. So you do a search for “Alchemy of Finance audiobook” and the result you get is this [1].

Now here’s the kicker - it’s out of stock. WTF !?!

[1] - https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-alchemy-of-finance-geor...


> it’s out of stock. WTF !?!

Maybe some online publishing license has to be renewed?


And their SEO is terrible. You have to go to google and add the domain to any query to find a book on their site.

I selfishly hope that the Barnes and Noble at the entrance inside Mall of America stays (because I live downtown Minneapolis and take the Blue Line directly there for fun). It's always busy, it's large, it's glorious and stocks the most awesome video game and obscure magazines anywhere I have seen. I love this store!

I always want to buy something, but living in small little tiny apartments all my life and finally selling off the last of my video game collection (31 large moving boxes filled) I want less physical items and buy all my books digitally. I like physical more, but with iBooks and keeping it always available at my finger tips on all my devices, it's way to convenient. I realize I might be part of the problem. There is always the downtown library.


My #1 bone to pick with Barnes and Noble was they wouldn’t price match their online price in store.

There is a local store near me and probably once a month I want a new book. I want the new book that day so I look online (Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, borders, etc) and determine Barnes and Noble is only a dollar or two more than Amazon. Fine because I want to read now.

Turns out, that was their online only price. If you want the book in their store it costs more.

I’ve avoided buying at least 12 books from them in the last 2-3 months because of it and went with Amazon.


I hope they don't kill B&N. I dropped out of college while pursuing a Physics degree. After which I didn't have much in terms of career prospects. There was a B&N near my apartment and I bought a lot of CS and programming books and went on to get jobs at FAANGish companies. I think I've spent about $30,000 at B&N over a 15 year period. I mostly buy from Amazon now but still go to B&N to be able to quickly physically browse through various categories of books.

Well Elliott is a vulture fund so we all know where this is going

They already own Waterstones in the UK which they seem to be treating ok so far: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48560539

I was pleasantly surprised when I visited a Waterstones recently. They were much improved over what they used to be.

I never thought I'd live to see the day the Riggios ran out of ideas to squeeze more cash out that business.

They've been experts at killing a business slowly. Maybe only Sears has done a better job of extracting value from a death spiral.


TIL Barnes and Noble still exists. I haven't seen one in what feels like a decade.

B&N is surprisingly one of the few private establishments available in the US for the simple pleasure of going in for a nice sit without feeling an obligation to purchase something.

Would be a shame to see them go.


> simple pleasure of going in for a nice sit without feeling an obligation to purchase something.

Could explain why they aren't very profitable and why they might be going by the wayside.


They made it a little too comfortable. I'd remember their cafe would have students sitting there studying or reading store books for hours. Meanwhile customers ordering food would have no space to sit down and eat. At some point they sold those cafe to a third party which modified the layout so tables were tall and narrow so less comfortable for studying.

For our local one it sold the cafe to Starbucks.

Amazon's smaller mall bookstores feel the same way if you have kids. Heck, they even have less toys, which is useful when kid wrangling (the last time I went to B&N, I couldn't get my toddler out of hte book section).

As is any small corner bookstore

There are five each in Austin and San Antonio; thirteen in Houston and fourteen in DFW. Even Lubbock has two.

They are pretty big stores, on par with anchor department stores.


Hopefully their first step is to replace their website with one that is useable to purchase books. Oof and that app which is a watered down version of the site that runs slower.

I hope they don't close, I love going to Best Buy and browse around, then go nextdoor to the B&N to see what's up in the latest comics, graphic novels, and scifi books. My kids love the kid section too.

I hope they don't kill the Nook, it's a much better eReader than the Kindle: uses standard epub format, fun and hackable, independent of the Amazon behemoth.

Kobo is also pretty good!

I always wondered why they are not trying to compete with Amazon in selling books online. I know they also sell books online and I know they have the Nook but I don’t think I have ever bought a book from their website. Is Amazon executing so perfectly that they simply can’t be beat?

I hope now I will be able to get my books...

I bought a lot of books from fictonwise because it was only store that sold them to Brazilians. BN then bought them and put a rule where you can only download those books, even though you bought them, of you are physically inside USA


I work remote and at least a few times a month I make it a point to work out of my small towns public library. It's so cool! when I do pomodoros and take a 5 minute break, I walk the stacks and find so many books I want to read!

Well I hope B&N will do better than Sears, Toys R Us, and RadioShack after they were taken private and saddled with unsustainable debt.

Every once in a while I still go in there and buy a book for more than I need to... just to hope that I am keeping the store open.

I miss bookstores.


Title should read $683M (not $638M)

I emailed dang to correct it.

I certainly think there is a niche for the absolute last physical bookstore in town.

I really hope I don't read any articles a few years from now about Barnes and Noble filing for bankruptcy after being crushed by the immense debt of a leveraged buyout...

> after being crushed by the immense debt of a leveraged buyout

$680M is in the realm of a cash transaction for a hedge fund, and indeed, if you look at their SEC filing (below), this is an all-cash transaction. Expect aggressive cost-cutting from Elliot (BNs around me seem to be well staffed with lots of people standing around with little to do - so layoffs likely in the future) but the store itself should be able to survive.

http://investors.barnesandnobleinc.com/static-files/e605e233...


Wow, you have a lux B&N. Most of them are desperately understaffed, between the need to reshelve books, receive inventory, manage "cash-wrap" for the long checkout lines, corral running kids, ask the guy destroying the manga to stop folding the covers, straighten the magazines that have been scattered by readers, pick up the trash patrons leave all over the store, check the bathrooms for various "presents" people leave behind, and oh yeah, help folks find the exact book they wanted from the query "that book by that guy who was a chef and then did special forces but now has that book about contract bridge" so they can flip through it and order it from Amazon.

The cost cutting has happened in many places and if it continues, sadly, even a hedge fund won't be able to save it. Sure, lots of room to improve, and a mix of cut the bad and add the good will help. But don't fool yourself, retail is hard and B&N, the good ones, is real work. I wish them the best but it's a hard road.


I seem to remember reading a story a few years ago about them laying off all their long tenured employees


Unless I'm mistaken, this is just saying that the fund purchased B&N with cash. That doesn't mean they haven't taken on debt to do so.

I agree with this. Almost all LBOs are cash transactions financed with debt.

The story reports that the same company recently bought a British bookseller, and managed to turn a company with losses into a company with profits, so hopefully they can do they same with Barnes and Noble.

Private investment firms can have a positive effect, if done right. Most of them are looking to make money in 5-7 years, which means spending some money to get it back to profitability before selling it off (or taking it public).

Agreed, my first thought when I saw this was of the Toys 'R Us filing for bankruptcy some years after the leveraged buyout in 2005.

Alternately, figure out where they will be selling real estate and how to make money on that... lots of it will be in California and NY?

Yeah bleed the piggy... then declare bankruptcy.

I'm betting they try to flip it to Amazon for $1.8b in 18 months time :)

Amazon really sucks if you are trying to buy a physically nice book these days. I've had to make so many returns this year. Most recently after waiting almost 2 months for my hardcover "On The Origin of Species", it has a box cutter cut on the front cover :S

A physical presence would be great for inspecting and purchasing hardcover if quality matters. Amazon doesn't seem to care much what condition they arrive at your house in.


That would be good for B&N, but that has to cross some antitrust line for Amazon. They are so close to crossing 50% market share of paperbacks already. I wasn’t able to find figures on B&N market share, but I could see them pushing hardcover close to majority in the US as well. https://www.statista.com/statistics/534111/amazon-book-marke...

Amazon has recently opened bookstores in shopping malls.

the writing has been on the wall for quite a while, sigh.

it gives people fond of memories, unlike amazon while you can get something cheaper, amazon has nothing else


Maybe they’ll make the Nook better.

In other words, B&N is to be dismantled and sold for parts in the near future.

It's already gone through that, to make the sale more attractive.

At the very least, maybe it turns back into a bookstore rather than a cafe/book/music/board game/toy store. It's the board games, comic/anime figurines, and kitchy junk (e.g., polaroid cameras, overpriced drawing and writing kits, etc.) that make me feel like they've kind of lost their way.

The board games, figurines, and the kitchy, disposable crap is what keeps them in business. The margins on those items are much higher then on books, and they sell faster than any random book on their shelves.

Source: My wife worked at Half-Price Books (Which is doing a bit better than B&N atm) for a few years. It also had multiple shelves of disposable crap, that made them a lot of money.


I was going to say this. The B&N where I live has a large pop culture area where the CD/Music section used to be. Star Wars, Harry Potter, LOTR, Stranger Things dedicated sections with lots of Funko and similar products. Really clean and high quality stuff if your into collecting. I see this as the only way they can survive.

Frankly B&N is one of the better toy stores in some areas.

They’d be better off if they stopped selling books, profit wise.



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