B&N CEO Parneros Defends B&N’s Chances – Because He Had To

Upton Sinclair once wrote that "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

I was reminded of that quote when I was reading a piece in Fortune over the weekend. Paul Wahba interviewed B&N's new CEO, Demos Parneros, on the topic of B&N, its stores, and its future.

B&N CEO Parneros Defends B&N's Chances - Because He Had To Barnes & Noble

Parneros spoke exactly the way you would expect someone whose job depends on his unwavering belief in the future of B&N: he gave as strong of a defense of B&N's stores as he possibly could.

FORTUNE: What are Barnes & Noble's biggest challenges at this point?

Parneros: They're the same as for other retailers. It's dealing with lots of stores, the impact of the internet, rising costs, rents up, staffing costs... Nothing really goes down, everything goes up.
Margins are getting squeezed because of mobile, aging store fleets, stores that are too big.

Last year, Barnes & Noble again relaunched its e-commerce site. Is it helping you?

Our online grew modestly, 2.2%, so not nearly enough to offset the sales declines [in bookstores]. I think there is a shift, it just didn't come to us.

Barnes & Noble still operates 634 stores, compared to 720 seven years ago. Given the comparable sales declines, are there still too many Barnes & Noble stores?

No. There aren't. And I can say this having run a 2,000-store chain before. We are looking at whether they're the right size and [asking,] are we in right markets? The good news is that over next five years, 500 leases are up for renewal. That puts the hammer back in our hand. And we can decide what to do with those stores. [Parneros noted that only a small fraction of stores are unprofitable.]


My main takeaway from this interview is to wonder why Fortune bothered. Parneros would not by in his position if he thought B&N were doomed; he would have declined B&N's offer.

And more importantly, even if Parneros did think the odds are stacked against Barnes & Noble, it's not like he could say so. If Parneros had expressed an honest appreciation of B&N's chances then he would have caused investors, suppliers, and customers to lose faith in B&N.

Had he been negative he would have killed the company - a self-fulfilling prophecy, as it were.

He would also have been fired.

So yes, when someone's job depends on not understanding something, don't bother asking them about it.

About Nate Hoffelder (9981 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

7 Comments on B&N CEO Parneros Defends B&N’s Chances – Because He Had To

  1. B&N needs to lower their book prices, improve their online customer service, and get some direction with their Nook product line. He needs to address these problems as well, or they will have a new CEO soon.

  2. B&N did what Amazon didn’t. They bent over for the publishers. Once they did that, they were doomed. It’s as simple as that.

  3. “Our online grew modestly, 2.2%, so not nearly enough to offset the sales declines [in bookstores]. I think there is a shift, it just didn’t come to us.”

    Are you sure he wasn’t somewhat introspective and honest?

  4. Yeah it sounded pretty honest to me. BN is not a colossal failure of a burning wreck nor are things rosy. It is a slow, slow decline of a failing business model that no longer works.

  5. My takeaway from your article is that the CEO of Barnes and Noble has one opinion and you have another and you know best. I’m curious why his biases are to be considered and your obvious scorn is not.

    It’s not that I actually disagree with what you’re saying but it does come across as rather mean spirited. I wonder if our new President’s style is that infectious. 🙂


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