One of my favorite places to visit when I am in the US are book stores. Walking down the street, subway or inside a mall, if I see a book store, I have to go inside. And most of time, I end up purchasing something, even though I may not have finished reading my previous purchases. Among all the physical stores I have visited, I have always liked the Barnes & Noble store. I stress “physical” because my favorite store is Amazon.com, simply because I get a better deal on books and CDs apart from the expansive range of stuff I have access to and access to different opinions about what I am about to buy.
The main difference between these two stores is that – Amazon helps me make the right decision whereas Barnes & Noble makes me feel good about my opinion. That is because they sell me the experience of buying a book. I can feel it before I buy it.
In terms of recommendations and reviews, B&N gives me shelves or tables filled with best-sellers, new books or bargain-finds. But I don’t have access to instant reviews about a book or whether I have different choices I can look at. I could always sit down and read a few pages myself and do it over a cup of Joe.
And now, click-and-mortar is winning over brick-and-mortar. It was bound to happen. On Aug 3, 2010, Barnes & Noble announced that their board was considering a sale of the company. There is now a tussle over who gets control of the company. On one side, you have Leonard Riggio, Barnes & Noble’s founder and chairman (29.9% of the company’s shares). The other side has investor Ron Burkle, who is already a large stockholder in the company (19.2% of shares). We will know what comes of this fight by September 28 at the company’s annual meeting.
What intrigues me about Barnes & Noble is the fact that they have 777 stores across the US. Compare that with 19 fulfillment centers (in US alone) of Amazon.com. Why do you need so many stores? It is obvious that running and maintaining these stores can be expensive by themselves. It definitely is not going to help keep the costs down.
Look at the numbers:
|Revenue (US$)||Operating Income (US$)||Net Income (US$)|
|Barnes & Noble||5.12 billion||143 million||75.9 million|
|Amazon.com||24.5 billion||1.129 billion||902 million|
B&N introduced the Nook Reader to compete with Amazon’s Kindle. They even did well by producing Nook apps for the iPhone and iPad. But it was late and not well accepted in the market, especially with its touch screen and software problems.
I am no supply-chain expert neither am I a financial wizard. But it would be very depressing to see a neighborhood B&N store close down (even though sometimes that makes sense).
One of the few things that Barnes & Noble needs to get right first is – take the fight online. And use the network of stores to your advantage. Amazon plays on a much wider scale than B&N (electronics, instruments, appliances etc.) and it will not make sense for B&N to get into all that now.
- Engage the reader/buyer online. Invest in technology that will make bn.com more like Amazon.com. Given the choice between bn.com and amazon.com, it is very easy to choose Amazon’s website because of the wealth of information available to you about what you want to buy. BN.com has some great features like their professional reviews, local store events, etc. Club that with some community participation, they should see people spending more time on their websites.
- Fix the Nook Reader. People are not going to buy a device that is slow. (You could slash the price heavily but it won’t help you in the long term.)
- Do something with all that space. Each B&N shop has so much space and so little happening. There must be something else you can do than just book readings and author meets.
I just hope that whoever gets control of the bookstore makes it right this time.
What do you think? Do you think B&N has a chance? What should they do to improve business?