December 4, 2019
Barnes & Noble sits out busy holiday shopping season
by John Francisconi
Publishers Weekly’s Jim Milliot reports that B&N CEO James Daunt won’t be making any immediate, holiday-inspired adjustments to the beleaguered bookstore chain he took over in August.
On the one hand, Daunt hasn’t really had enough time to make major changes to B&N’s holiday procedures. Perhaps the biggest change he’s introduced in his short time at the company is a Barnes and Noble Book of the Year Award, a prize modeled after something similar he pioneered at Waterstones. This year’s shortlist is a fairly uninspired hodgepodge of big-ish books. Daunt said that he wants B&N to get back into the habit of “making a book.” It’s our profound hope that the award will help readers find unheralded talents like Margaret Atwood, Colson Whitehead, and Elizabeth Strout.
It still seems as if Daunt’s interested in giving his employees more control over how their stores look, feel, and function. It strikes us as slightly backward, then, that he wouldn’t at least try to crowdsource some last-minute advice or ideas for holiday promotions from B&N employees during this uncommonly busy retail season. (Or why not just do something really crazy, like sell all their books at 30% off?)
As it stands, B&Ns in December 2019 will look an awful lot like they did in December 2018. They won’t sound like last year’s stores, though, as Daunt’s reportedly eliminated the “corporate script” his booksellers were obliged to use. Lucky us, and them. (But what about the Christmas music-playing policy?) Letting booksellers express themselves without a script’s a good start, and long-term strategizing for such a huge enterprise may be a wiser course of action than inventing schemes, on the fly, to survive a competitive and lucrative December. This retail season will mark what feels like the true end of an era for B&N, and hopefully the start of a strong new one. Daunt advises, “You can judge us by how we do next holiday season compared to now.”
John Francisconi is the Direct Sales and Operations Manager at Melville House.