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.
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 asked a manager about it, and they told me it was a corporate directive.
I really wonder if these corporate directives are made by people who like bookstores, or read.
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.
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.