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Barnes and Noble's Struggles Continue, But Their Education Division Offers Hope

Barnes and Noble, booksellers since 1873 - peoplewhowriteYesterday, the ailing bookseller’s stock fell almost 28% as stockholders rushed to dump their shares. The selloff was in response to Barnes and Noble’s report of a projected 1.7% decline in fiscal 2016 first quarter sales, through August 1st.

The bad news notwithstanding, there are some glimmers of hope. “‘Core’ Nook-free sales inched up 1 percent, and same-store sales rose 1.1 percent” and Barnes and Noble Education, which spun off into an independent company August 2, 2014, reported a 5.9% uptick in sales. (It bears noting that Amazon, B&N’s primary competitor, has entered the education space by opening its first brick and mortar location at Purdue University.)

As writers, this news is relevant because Barnes and Noble and other bookstores offer us a physical space to connect with readers at signings. Bookstores, Barnes and Noble among the biggest of these retailers, also enable readers to discover and have a tactile experience with our work. With no or fewer bookstores, as I wrote in a 2013 post “What Will the World Look Like Without Barnes & Noble?” authors will face even more competition to get on surviving bookstore shelves and reading/signing calendars. We may also see indie bookstores “behaving as Barnes and Noble does now — prioritizing marquee and celebrity authors over new and emerging literary talent.”

While the internet offers a preponderance of venues for digitally savvy authors to market their work, from Facebook to Wattpad, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my experience promoting my first book Powder Necklace is that online interaction simply isn’t enough. While Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts definitely reach more people more easily, they work best when they are amplifying what’s happening (or has happened) face to face.

For all of Amazon’s power, bestselling authors like Tim Ferris could not match their previous success when Barnes and Noble refused to carry their books. When B&N reduced their orders of Simon and Schuster titles in response to their perception that S&S was getting too cozy with Amazon, authors’ book sales suffered. And when Walmart, Target and J.C. Penney all announced they were discontinuing their Paula Deen business after the cookbook queen was outed for using the “N” word, Random House yanked her book deal. Barnes and Noble’s refusal to carry Amazon Publishing titles may have caused the internet retailer to shift its focus from the U.S. to Europe.

The point is, as authors, whatever happens to one of the biggest physical retailers of books, happens to us. We need to figure out how to staunch Barnes and Noble’s bleeding even as we determine how to work with Amazon to our advantage, all while working to develop independent retail systems that better benefit us and our work.

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