nooks and experiences

It was recently announced that Barnes and Noble would spin off the Nook. Despite valiant attempts at penetrating the tablet market, they couldn’t do it. What is less remarked is that Barnes and Noble is actually profitable. Only the digital reader is a money loser. The question is, then, how is a brick and mortar outfit still alive in the age of Amazon and digital books?

My answer: experience. I, too, thought that B&N was done for.  But what I realize is that brick and mortar, in some cases, is an experience. A pleasant place to do things, even if it can be done cheaper online. Think restaurant. B&N, and the now rebounding independent book store sector, are providing reading experiences that people value. When I go to a B&N, I see things for kids, music, and a cafe. And it’s probably the most literary place in most suburbs. So, B&N, you shall live to see another day.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 10, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, markets

5 Responses

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  1. Barnes and Noble provides a few things that no one else does: it has a reading room which most people call a Cafe and it serves coffee, several types of food (none of which are high in protein however :(), and frappacinos. The combination of food, a reading room, a large magazine rack, and many books provides a setting for appealing to students to read, for getting mom and dad to buy books and food, and a place for conversation and meeting of acquaintances. Because of the combination of food and books and a certain ambiance from music, it is better than a library where librarians rule the roost often in a petty bourgeois manner. But, the library is free. So there is the up side and the down side.

    If Barnes wanted to improve, it would improve its reading room to accommodate more outlets and a few more tables, their music could be improved to set a reliable volume and content – not the same music everyday, and it would serve healthy foods also, that is, food high in protein.

    Barnes employs its workers at around minimum wage which creates a bit of a problem from some employees who get jealous when they cannot sit around and read interesting material but have to work at what appears to be a nonstop work environment. But. it is good experience; future employers will like experienced workers from a Barnes’ Cafe! I have not figured however why the employees are unable to accept people who like to stop in daily, as a regular, when the place is rarely crowded – they should welcome the business!

    The Barnes and Noble Cafe setting is a contested area however. Many different people, some who either use too much cologne or who fail to maintain good hygiene (not sure which is worse!), some who are trying to pick up an other for sexual pursuits as if we are still in the old days of prurient book store back rooms! And there is always the problem of loud students who are too ego-centered to realize that others are really trying to just read, or old ladies or old men who are senile and act angrily towards younger people, even if only by a few years!!! Sometimes, book haters or political types stop in to harass the readers, but not too often. Altogether, the Barnes and Noble establishments are successful because of their Cafe and their membership discounts, and their efficient book selling in the store or online.


    Fredrick Welfare

    July 10, 2014 at 1:23 am

  2. I too believe that there is room for a variety of business strategies, including seemingly old-fashioned ones such as brick and mortar bookstores. In fact, I am often frustrated with scholars and commentators making deterministic arguments about the (often dire) future prospects of certain industries or organizational forms, be it classic bookstores, newspapers, or other things. More generally, what we often find in the real world is that disruptive new inventions may take much longer to really take hold and also have less massive implications on existing businesses than we originally assume.

    What I really find interesting though is the question why B&N (so far) succeeded and is still around, while Borders, for example, isn’t anymore. I think this constitutes an exciting and relevant field for research for organization scholars — the organizational field is perhaps less homogenous than it seems, opening up the possibility to re-introduce some agency and strategy concepts …


    Johann Fortwengel

    July 10, 2014 at 12:02 pm

  3. An excellent question: why has B&N succeeded and Borders failed. Since I regularly frequented both stores, I think the reason was the supervision of the cafe areas. B&N maintains a constant staff behind the Cafe counter and makes hot food where Borders did not maintain a constant staff and you had to wait or call for help! and there was minimal hot food or none at all at Borders. Both stores had music problems, but some Borders had no music at all in their Cafe area! B&N has the problem of replaying the same music for months or even years!!! I doubt the coffee quality made a difference but B&N serves Starbucks!

    I bought books in both stores, and Borders music collection was superior to B&N though both were good: you could wear headphones and scan any CD to listen to it. B&N’s member discount of 10% with irregular mailings for further discounts was matched by Borders ‘sales’ where books could be bought on certain days for as much as 25-40% off – I took advantage of these sales often.

    There was also a difference between Borders’ stores where the book collection at some stores was superior to other stores based perhaps on the subjective decision of store managers of reader’s interests. Most B&N stores carry roughly the same books and there are small differences between bookstores near a University and those that are not which only appeal to the common readers of popular books and high school students. Borders near a University was GREAT but if not it was lousy.

    Lastly, the reading rooms at B&N, although too small, were larger than any Borders – if you counted chairs. On average, B&N has appr 40 seats available, but Borders was always less. Then there is the issue of customers: does B&N appeal to a more sophisticated customer than Borders? If quality and ease of bathroom maintenance is a sign, then B&N appeals to a higher class of customers, that is, their toilets are rarely backed up!


    Fredrick Welfare

    July 10, 2014 at 1:44 pm

  4. One obvious hypothesis about B&N vs Borders is that Borders’s demise helped B&N. Having a cafe in a book store is a relatively new idea, not an old idea, as far as I can tell. Another hypothesis is about the internal organizational trajectories and business focus. In my city, Borders had been around much longer, was located in a more university-centric part of town, and went through a series of relocations and remodels as it expanded and added the cafe and non-book sections. I recall its initial incarnation as a pure book store with shelves of books. B&N was a later entry and opened in strip malls more to the edge of town with interiors that were already laid out in the new model with the cafe as well as sofas scattered about the sales floor and other encouragements to settle in and read/browse on site. I seem to recall a positive buzz when B&N came to town. I’m also pretty sure I remember correctly that both Borders and other local bookstores knew B&N was coming and saw it as a threat and remodeled in anticipation of the coming battle.



    July 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm

  5. Borders used to have a far better selection of books than B&N. But when they started to face revenue problems, one of their strategies was to stock far fewer books so that more of them could be facing outward on the shelves. I think this was counterproductive, although of course I don’t know for sure.

    I do miss Borders very much.



    July 10, 2014 at 6:09 pm

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