The hot news in the book world this week is the sale of Barnes & Noble. Elliot Advisors, majority owner of UK bookstore chain Waterstones, has completed its $683 million acquisition of the struggling retailer. The deal was closed weeks ahead of schedule and only involved one lawsuit. (I was surprised; I expected B&N to fire at least 1.2 CEOs before Daunt took up the reins.)
Now that the deal is done, Daunt has said he will be spending about 75% of his time in New York City. Kate Skipper, COO of Waterstones, will run the chain in his absence, although I don’t see why that would be necessary; with modern telecommunications, one is never more than a Skype call away from a meeting.
Once Daunt settles in, he will have the unenviable task of turning around a retailer that has, in recent years, changed its policies about as often as the average person buys coffee while playing musical chairs with the CEO seat. At the same time. B&N lost over a billion dollars in market value in the past five years as the stock price was dragged down by bad earnings reports.
So how is he going to do it?
According to the NYTimes, Daunt is going to focus on the stores, giving them a degree of independence that is virtually unheard of in US retailing.
The changes have filled Waterstones’ 289 shops, mostly in Britain, with books that customers actually want to buy, as opposed to the ones that publishers are eager to sell. And store managers have been given plenty of leeway to transform their shops into places that feel personally curated and decidedly uncorporate.
“He’s essentially created a series of independent bookstores,” said Tom Weldon, the chief executive of Penguin Random House Books U.K., “with the buying power of a chain.”
So what does this mean for the Nook?
Barnes & Noble’s ebook division has lost most of its value in the past five years, going from $264 million revenue in FY2015 to $92 million in FY2019. At the same time B&N has released new Nooks at a snail’s pace, updating the Nook ereader an average of every other year.
What do you think Daunt will do? Will he invest in Nook, and give us a new ereader this year, or will he cut his losses and sell off the customer lists to Kobo?
I am hoping for a new Nook; yes, it is simply rebranded Netronix hardware, but there’s still an opportunity for B&N to launch a new model as the focal point for its digital revival as it turns around its fortunes.
So tell me, do you think we’re going to get a new Nook this year?