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Barnes & Noble


  Barnes & Noble
booking it
by Barry Silverstein
February 10, 2010

Barnes & Noble doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. The world’s largest bookseller operates 775 retail stores in all fifty states in the US, plus another 636 college bookstores. That’s right, those bookstores on campuses around the United States are largely run by Barnes & Noble. Many of the Barnes & Noble stores also have cafés.
 
 

Barnes & Noble actually stocks over 1 million titles for immediate delivery – more than any other online bookseller, even Amazon. And the company sells over 300 million books per year.

It certainly isn’t an easy business to be in, with intense online competition from Amazon, as well as retail competition from chains like Borders, who also owns Waldenbooks, and Books-A-Million. But the company’s size, diversification, and innovation all work in its favor.

Customers, it seems, love the Barnes & Noble brand, which was ranked first in the 2010 Forrester Research “Customer Experience Index.” The Index ranks 133 US companies across 14 industries using feedback from more than 4,600 consumers. Rankings are based on a company’s ability to meet needs, and whether it’s easy and enjoyable to do business with. This was the second year in a row that Barnes & Noble took first place.

Barnes & Noble was a flagging bookstore in the 1970s, when it was purchased by Leonard Riggio. He turned the company’s flagship location on Fifth Avenue in New York City into “the world’s largest bookstore” – way before Amazon came along to challenge the claim. It was Barnes & Noble that started the practice of discounting bestsellers in 1975. Then Barnes & Noble went on an acquisition spree in the 1980s, acquiring B. Dalton Bookseller, Doubleday Bookshops, and BookStop. These acquisitions led to Barnes & Noble establishing the “superstore” format in malls for which it has become known.

Arguably, Barnes & Noble was late to the Internet party. While the company sold books online in the mid 1990s, it didn’t launch its own website until May 1997, fully two years after the founding of Amazon.com.

It has been Barnes & Noble’s innovation, both offline and online, that has kept this brand in the forefront of the book publishing industry. In fact, Barnes & Noble is not just a bookseller – it is also a publisher. The company publishes its own line of previously out-of-print titles, “Barnes & Noble Classics.” It owns Sterling Publishing, a non-fiction book publisher, and SparkNotes.com, a study aids website.

In the rapidly emerging eBook market, Barnes & Noble is playing a high-stakes game. In 2009, Barnes & Noble acquired Fictionwise, a leading eBook publisher. In July 2009, the company launched what it claims is the world’s largest online eBookstore. In October 2009, Barnes & Noble took its boldest step yet, introducing its “Nook” eBook reader. The Nook puts the company squarely in the competitive crosshairs of not just Amazon, but also technology companies like Apple and Sony. The Nook offers access to a library of over one million eBooks, newspapers and magazines. It was ranked number 2 in Time.com’s “Top 10 Gadgets of 2009” (number 1 was the Droid smartphone).

Barnes & Noble has recently been involved in cross-media promotion. In January 2010, for example, the company joined with HBO to promote “Temple Grandin,” an HBO non-fiction film about autism advocate/animal researcher Temple Grandin. Prior to the movie’s premiere on February 6, Barnes & Noble held an in-store event featuring the movie’s “heroine” reading from her autobiographical books. Barnes & Noble accompanied the movie launch with its own microsite and a downloadable coloring book commissioned by HBO and intended to introduce facts about autism to children.

To reinforce its position as a resource in communities where its stores are located, Barnes & Noble has adopted an aggressive community outreach program that includes a holiday book drive, a summer reading program, book fairs, story times, and costume character visits for children. The company is active in promoting autism and Down syndrome awareness, and it donates books, toys, and games to America Supports You, an organization that aids members of the US armed services and their families.

As a brand, Barnes & Noble has a high degree of on-street and online awareness. In its Fiscal 2010 second quarter, ending October 31, 2009, Barnes & Noble’s store sales decreased, but Internet sales increased 9 percent over the prior year. Overall, the company had a 4 percent increase in sales in the second quarter, compared to the prior year. This is a company that looks to book more business in the future.

 
     
  

Barry Silverstein has been a frequent brandchannel contributor since 2007. He has thirty years of advertising and marketing experience and is currently a freelance writer and marketing consultant. He founded and ran his own direct marketing agency and held executive positions with Epsilon, a leading database marketing firm and Arnold, a major ad agency. Silverstein is the author of three marketing books, including the McGraw-Hill book, The Breakaway Brand, which he co-authored with Arnold CEO Fran Kelly.

  
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