Wednesday, May 08, 2013


I wrote this on my other blog but I thought I'd post it here too. It's something that I think is important to discuss:

Sorry for the silence. I've been traveling quite a bit. But back to business. I've seen some great books that I'd like to share but first I want to briefly talk about the situation with B&N and S&S. This really bothers me. B&N is asking that S&S pay more money to display its titles and it wants a higher discount for S&S books. S&S doesn't want to give in to BN's demands... so... BN has limited its stock on S&S titles in its stores. This, to me, seems like a monopoly. BN doesn't have any competitors any more (not brick and motor stores anyway) and now has decided to make these demands because it can get away with it. Why not? Borders isn't around any more to say, hey: we'll take your books for the standard deal.

I read an article that pitied BN, saying that Amazon was a big competitor so now BN needs to get its money in other ways. I have a different perspective and this is coming from experience. Trust me. BN is making TOO MANY MISTAKES and this is its own fault. Because BN is making these mistakes, publishers shouldn't be punished.

1) Amazon has a far superior search engine. Books are easy to look up. You can misspell things and still find what you're looking for. Go to BN and try to look up something when you get the title slight wrong or you misspell the author's name wrong. Ooops! Nothing comes up. This has been like this for years! BN has had PLENTY of time to hire the right people to fix this. They haven't. Mistake number one.

2) Trying to compete with the likes of Apple. Apple has been around for a good long time and makes amazing products. It's unclear to me as to why BN thought it could come along and produce a product in a few years and think it could compete with that. Loss of market share there.

3) BN has no competitors and sells books yet it instead has decided to focus on toys, soap, dumb gift items, and so on. The one thing BN has that Amazon and other online retailers do not have is BOOKSELLERS. People who are there to recommend great new titles and HANDSELL. But instead of advertising that key element... instead of making sure that the good and knowledgable stick around, they treat the employees like inconsequential elements: people who are there to stock shelves and pick books up off the floor. BN could be a force to recon with if they got the right employees and advertised as such. Heck, they even HAVE some but don't care to use them properly. Example: having a trained opera singer working with the literature books even though she asked to be put with the music. Having a school teacher working with travel books. Huh? The stores aren't run right. It's sad. It could be game over faster than it has to be.

I'm siding with S&S on this one. Sorry BN.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting these problems with BN. I wasn't aware of all of them. Amazon is my bookstore of choice, especially with Amazon Prime. The one thing Amazon isn't great on is browsing. I used to browse in Borders once in awhile. And I regularly browsed at independent bookstores near our old home in the Bay Area. I've never felt any interest in browsing at BN. When I've done it I've felt vaguely like I've been watching a very poorly done TV show. Browsing at BN is an vacuous experience.

sawcat said...

These things are never one sided as presented. What are the demands S&S are giving BN? It is exactly like when cable providers and channel owners duke it out.

I stand by my brick and mortar stores and refuse to use the monopoly that is Amazon unless an item can't be found anywhere else. I hate using their search feature, as 95% are items completely unrelated to my search, and thos often are before the true item. But the biggest issue is their horrid temper tantrum about having to collect sales tax in California.

looking at rhe S&S catalog, my BN has lots of their titles in store, and being they are a small store, they aren't able to store many titles.

Libby Koponen said...

My perspective on B&N is this. They:
* drove a lot of really great independent bookstores out of business
* are very corporate in the worst way in their approach to books
*and play horrible music.

I hope they go out of business! It would be just and well-deserved and I for one would rejoice.

Meghan McCarthy said...

Sarah, you'd have to go read the articles. What BN is doing is refusing to display S&S's new titles. Instead they will shelve them. They may not carry smaller titles at all. S&S authors will really be hurt by this. I am one of them. I am also a B&N employee. Every time we have to search for a book for a customer guess where we go? Amazon! BN has no phonetic search engine: both in its stores and at It's a HUGE problem and it's damaging. Very. If your small store has a lot of S&S titles they could be the big titles that are not on display OR they could be titles that are "due out" but the employees haven't gotten sending them back yet, etc etc. BN will not disclose what exactly they are demanding so it's hard to say. All we know for certain is that it's more than what they have normally asked for. Would they be asking for this if there was competition? I don't think so.

I don't want BN to go out of business because it will hurt the publishing industry. Possibly big time. Even with people buying books online they often times need to "window shop" the books first. Barnes & Noble could take advantage of that and get the customer to actually purchase the book while they were there.

Anyway, there are a lot of issues going on. I see a lot of them daily.

Anna Alter said...

Meghan- I'm curious, is B&N making demands of S&S that they're not making of other publishers? If so, why are they targeting them?

I in no way enjoy going in to a B&N and am deeply sad that in some communities this is the ONLY place to go to buy a book in person. Fortunately where I live there are still some hold out small bookstores, and I order my books there.

It seems to me both Amazon and B&N treat books as products, not works of art, not literature, and in so doing have had a very negative impact on the ability of authors and publishers to get good books in the hands of readers.

Meghan McCarthy said...

I don't know if they are making demands that are different than other publishers. I couldn't find that info out. I did read that some publishers caved to BN's demands so they may have asked for the same thing of all the big publishers and S&S stood their ground. I will say this: if you go into BN there are Penguin displays everywhere so BN and Penguin made some sort of deal. I don't like what's going on with all of that. Everyone should get the same amount of display space and it should be up to the bookseller to make some decisions not how much $ they are willing to spend. It's no longer about good books AT ALL. It's gross. And at the store I work at they took away the wall of new books and replaced it with a wall of gift items such as lap desks and soap. The other tables that had books on them now display more soap and coffee mugs. BN could learn from Starbuck's mistake when they spread too thin with the merchandising. Sometimes it's better to focus on what you do best. The store right now is acting like a bipolar person without their meds. A section gets moved to a new floor every time I go into work. I never know where anything is. Neither do the customers (obviously). I get complaints all the time. And Nook is the largest bipolar product. They obviously can't make up their mind: now they're going to sell it after they invested tons of money on new displays--fancy counters, lighting, tvs, etc etc. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I could rant forever.

david elzey said...

meghan, i bet you and i could sit and spend DAYS comparing notes about b&n, but on the issue of handselling...

handselling is a highly developed skill, one that i was taught when i was first hired by a very knowledgeable manager at my first store over a dozen years ago. he came from indy bookstores and told me, flat out, that the company was no longer looking to put that kind of time into training booksellers because, frankly, they couldn't "afford" it. people who become trained and skilled suddenly discover they have a value and worth that allows them to demand more in wages. have you noticed, there's no such thing as a "professional bookseller" and on a resume that title means absolutely nothing to most potential employers.

in germany, as an aside, bookselling is a profession that requires the equivalent of an associates degree in this country. here, a bookseller is burger-flipper, a person whose time is mostly spent moving books in, out, and around, not talking to people.

but when it comes to the death of handselling, amazon did that. people didn't need to rely on the local bookstores one they had customer reviews. and, honestly, before there was an internet many of the bookstores hired book snobs who would make the average customer feel bad about like certain titles. i was turned down from one famous indy bookstore because my interviewer disagreed with personal choices of top books. in the internet age they lost most of their sales and are hurting more because of their attitude than amazon or even b&n, so i'd be careful about painting such a glowing picture of the good ol' days of bookstores.

but on all your other counts i agree and can concur. that bookmaster lookup is a disaster. and i remember back in the day when b&n wouldn't even allow us access to the internet or amazon to assist in lookup!