Amazon's first bookstore is opening at a curious time: when Barnes & Noble is getting out of the market.
Bloomberg published an interview yesterday of Ron Boire, B&N's new CEO. Boire took over as the head of B&N this summer after leaving a similar position with Sears Canada, and he's already begun to adapt his experience with that ailing retailer to save B&N. According to Bloomberg, Boire said he’ll continue predecessor Mike Huseby’s expansion of non-book items.
The biggest U.S. bookstore chain is counting on new do-it-yourself merchandise such as Raspberry Pi computer kits, art supplies, journals and even a Benedict Cumberbatch coloring book to lure shoppers at Christmas and beyond. Toys and other non-book items have been Barnes & Noble’s fastest-growing category, rising at a double-digit pace, Boire said.
Barnes & Noble is expanding exclusive or hard-to-find merchandise, including Gundam anime kits that can cost as much as $150. A large swath of the second floor at the Union Square store is devoted to toys, which the retailer has grouped by age, category and brand.
To lure young adults, the store has doubled its selection of manga comic books from last year and expanded its array of graphic novels and anime figures. It also has added a large selection of vinyl records, which executives expect to be a top seller this holiday as the old format becomes more popular with urban hipsters and indie music fans.
So not only is B&N closing stores while toying with the idea of opening smaller ones, they've also devoting less space to books and trying to find products that will attract younger consumers.
That's why B&N stores look like this now:
This could also explain why my local B&N has kept its music dept, and now stocks LPs and USB record players.
At the same time, B&N is changing how it promotes books:
For the holiday this year, it’s cut featured titles highlighted in a display at the front of the store by almost half, to 55. Instead, there are more copies of each, and popular books are now presented in several categories. Stacy Schiff’s new book on the Salem witch trials, for example, pops up in history, best-sellers and a new section called “Popular Life Stories.” Overall, the company is promoting more titles than in past years.
B&N is transitioning from being a bookseller to something else. They're replacing the unprofitable books with whatever is hot right now, including figurines. (If Amazon merchandized its new tv series with toys, would B&N refuse to carry them?)
They're even selling pasta now:
At the same time, B&N isn't removing the cafes that everyone used to think would make the perfect complement to a bookstore, they're just surrounding them with different products.
Would you like a coffee with your crossword?
So what does this make B&N, the new mid-range Sharper Image? An alternative to Bed, bath, & Beyond (with an emphasis on the beyond)?
How about a plus-sized comic book store?
Seriously, folks, comic book stores have long carried merchandise that complemented the graphic novels and comic books and appealed to the same customer base.
Now B&N is selling whatever draws in the customers. It wouldn't be a bad idea for B&N to look at the healthier comic book shops and see what they're doing right.