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B&N Education Now Runs College Gift Shops, And Not Just Bookstores

2190600496_02a5e024f2_bYesterday I noted that the college bookstore market is being disrupted by online retailers like Amazon, virtual bookstore operators like eCampus, and textbook concessionaires like Akademos.

The chaos does not bode well for bookstore operators like Follett and B&N Education, which explains why the latter is transitioning away from operating bookstores.

I missed this detail in yesterday’s story (Teleread caught it) but B&N Education used to run the college bookstore at Stony Brook University before the concession was awarded to Amazon (and yes, Amazon does hold the bookstore contract – see SBU’s bookstore website).

Now B&N Education runs the "Official Online Store of Stony Brook University". Based on the website, I would say it’s a gift shop:


There’s no mention of books; instead the focus is on apparel, branded merchandise, toys, and gifts.

SBU is one of several schools to sign new contracts with B&N Edu following its acquisition of Promoversity. The latter company offers an "e-commerce storefront solution" which B&N is now pitching to colleges and universities as a gift shop solution.

I don’t have them in front of me, but over the past few weeks two different press releases cross my desk announcing that B&N Edu had struck merchandising deals with two US colleges to run gift shops with websites like the one shown above (and possibly the cosmetics dept which first launched in May 2016).

One of those schools is Columbia University.

It’s not clearly stated in the NYTimes piece, but what we’re seeing here is B&N Education’s response to disruption in the college bookstore market:

It’s getting out of that market, and focusing on running gift shops.

Even though B&N Edu President Patrick Maloney told the NYTimes that "98% of the stores Barnes & Noble College operates still carry course materials in various formats" , it’s clear where the company is headed.

B&N Edu is betting that in the long run the brick-and-mortar college bookstore is as dead as the big box retail bookstore, and that is essentially the same conclusion I had reached last year.

Yes, B&N Edu has signed couple dozen deals in the past year to run college bookstores, but several of the stores are not described as bookstores. Instead, they’re now called "The Official Store of …".  You can find one such store at UNC Chapel Hill (which still sells textbooks, but not for too much longer).

Instead, B&N Edu wants to pivot and become the Hallmark of college retail.

I don’t know that B&N Edu will succeed, but it’s not a bad idea on the face of it. B&N Edu has a better chance than its sister company, which is run by a guy who thinks his company is still a chain of bookstores which are facing only a temporary setback due to the current election cycle.

And no, that’s not a dig at B&N because I "hate" the company; I merely wanted to show that one company has a plan for the future while the other is still clinging to the past.

image by brewbooks

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Shirley Dulcey September 20, 2016 um 12:19 pm

I think B&N Education will do OK. They’ll continue to sell books in locations where it makes sense (especially urban stores like the Harvard Coop that they manage), while shifting to another merchandise mix in places where it does not.

Their book mix has long been far better done than that of their former corporate parent. I can go into a traditional Barnes and Noble store and find it difficult to locate anything I actually want to read, but there are always books in B&N Education stores that I want to take home.

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