Barnes & Noble Makes a Comeback

Photo Credit: Ethan Hoover, Unsplash

By Debbie Burke



What goes around comes around. And around. And around.

So goes the tale of Barnes & Noble.

The bookseller was founded in New York in 1886 as Arthur Hinds & Company. A clerk named Gilbert Clifford Noble rose to partnership and soon changed the name to Hinds & Noble. In 1917, Noble partnered with William Barnes to become Barnes & Noble.

Fun fact: In 1940, B&N was one of the first businesses to feature Muzak. 

A single NYC store grew to a nationwide chain. In 1974, the Fifth Avenue B&N became the biggest bookstore in the world.

Along the way, B&N gained a reputation as a corporate bully that gobbled up smaller chains and elbowed aside numerous independent bookstores, putting many out of business.

Big fish eat little fish. To the dismay of readers, few indie minnows survived B&N’s dominance.

“Barnes & Noble was perceived as not just the enemy,” said a former chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, which represents indie shops, told the New York Times, “but as being everything about corporate book selling that was wrong.”

Then…along came a whale named Amazon.

Photo credit: Stephane Wegner, Unsplash

Online book sales thrived while physical bookstores dropped by the wayside. The juggernaut of Amazon led to mergers and bankruptcies of sizable chains like Waldenbooks, Crown, and B. Dalton. In 2011, Borders filed bankruptcy, leaving B&N the sole remaining national bookstore chain.

Amazon was fast gaining ground.

In 2010, B&N introduced the Nook e-reader to compete with Kindle but it never came close to Kindle’s success. Stores added coffee shops, free wi-fi, gifts, and non-book merchandise, hoping to survive. Nothing worked. Sales dropped, employees were fired, stores closed.

Per Ted Gioia, The Honest Broker:

“By 2018 the company was in total collapse. Barnes & Noble lost $18 million that year, and fired 1,800 full time employees—in essence shifting almost all store operations to part time staff. Around that same time, the company fired its CEO due to sexual harassment claims.”

The bookseller that had put so many other bookstores out of business appeared ready to join their fate.

Enter James Daunt. The 59-year-old former banker and business exec had founded Daunt Books and turned around Waterstone’s, a British bookseller that had once languished in similar straits to B&N. In 2019, he took the helm as B&N’s CEO and set out to rescue the floundering chain.

A daunting task (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

Daunt turned the focus back to books and got rid of unrelated merchandise. He gave control of stores to local staff, correctly reasoning that the people who meet customers every day are in the best position to know what their particular readers want.

Y’know, like mom-and-pop indie bookstores used to do.

Managers have free rein to stock books by local authors, including good-quality self-published ones, and those of regional interest. They no longer have to stock books chosen by a single head buyer from thousands of miles away.

A few months ago, I visited B&N in Missoula, Montana. The manager not only ordered some of my books, she is also happy to host an in-person event later this year.

B&N stores are now becoming more like the indie bookstores they used to put out of business.

Daunt’s strategies are succeeding. In 2023, B&N plans to open 30 new stores. Ironically, some will take over the same locations where Amazon’s experimental physical bookstores failed.

What goes around comes around.

What’s coming around now for B&N is good news for readers. It also gives a boost to local authors who want to see their books on real shelves.


TKZers: Have you visited a B&N store recently? Do you see changes? What’s your opinion about them under the new leadership?




DEEP FAKE ~ Tawny Lindholm Thriller #8

You can’t believe your own eyes.

To be notified when Deep Fake is released, please sign up here.

This entry was posted in book stores, Borders, James Daunt, Writing by Debbie Burke. Bookmark the permalink.

About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes the Tawny Lindholm series, Montana thrillers infused with psychological suspense. Her books have won the Kindle Scout contest, the Zebulon Award, and were finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award and Her articles received journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers.

33 thoughts on “Barnes & Noble Makes a Comeback

  1. The new policies should help. I haven’t been in a B&N store since 2017, when I submitted a six-page, detailed questionnaire to their New York HQ to apply for stocking my book. The process did not engender confidence.

  2. We have a huge Barnes & Noble a few minutes away. I didn’t know all the background drama and never joined the We Hate B&N club. It’s one of my favorite Artist Dates. The clerks are helpful and I always find something I love. One of my latest finds was Just Write by James Scott Bell.

    • Cynthia, the serendipity of stumbling on a new book on the shelf is great–can’t quite be duplicated with online browsing. Glad physical stores are coming back.

  3. I haven’t been in a bookstore for quite some time, but I was curious after reading your post, Googled & found that thankfully, B&N is still alive & kicking here in my town. I will have to swing by one day & see if it looks much different from the last time I was there maybe three years ago. While most of my book purchases are e-book by necessity (physical space, aging eyes, cost of printed books), it’s still great to have access to a physical store.

  4. No physical bookstores near me, unless you count Walmart. But I buy almost all my books from B&N and have since I got my first Nook. Glad to see they’re turning things around. Competition is a necessity.

  5. B&N has always been good to me. I did several book signings at stores in Mississippi and in Memphis before Covid. The staff was always wonderful to me and it was a fun experience connecting with readers. Since I’m not a big name, not a gazillion sales, but enough for them to ask me to come back.

  6. Thanks, Debbie. We have six B & N stores in the Central Ohio area, five of them on the north side. We lost one to the pandemic but the others seem to be doing fine. We also continue to have a number of independent/speciality bookstores here that have been around for awhile.

    B & N also used to mail catalogs with remaindered books and the like. This was back in the day before the internet. I loved those things.

    I was in a B & N a few months ago and didn’t notice a huge change in the merch they carried. It seemed to be doing quite well, however, which I was happy to see. I had read somewhere that the chain was going to eliminate its magazine section but it was still there.

    Have a great week, Debbie!

    • Thanks for the OH report, Joe! I too had heard B&N was getting rid of magazines but am glad they haven’t, at least so far. That’ was a major reason for visiting them b/c few old-fashioned newsstands exist any longer.

  7. Thanks for the post and the update, Debbie

    Like others, I haven’t been in a B&N for several years. The last time I researched them was when I was trying to see if they were going under. I’m glad Daunt accomplished a daunting task. Now, I’m eager to visit their stores in Columbus and Dayton. I’ll be sure to ask them if they carry the Tawny Lindholm Thriller series, and tell them that they should.

    What is happening to the true indie books stores? Are they making a comeback also? Or is the new B&N model still running them off?

  8. We have several B&N stores in our area. I’ve done book signings at a couple of them. The staffs of those stores were very helpful. I sold a few books and enjoyed meeting readers. I also did a book signing at a B&N in Austin. It was another fun experience.

    I’m glad B&N is making a comeback. I noticed recently that the B&N percentage of my ebook sales had increased. I still buy most of my ebooks from Amazon, but I may switch this year to B&N. That’s another way to support fellow authors since B&N pays a higher royalty on books that are less than $2.99 or greater than $9.99 than the other ebook retailers pay.

    Love the cover of Deep Fake, Debbie! I’m looking forward to the release.

  9. I’m thrilled to learn that Barnes and Noble has staged a comeback, Debbie. Our local store closed back in 2021, but then reopened in a new location across the street from where it had been, a smaller store front. I have visited yet.

    At one time, I was not a fan–back in the 1980s Portland had a vibrant ecosystem of book stores. We took a walking tour back then with the local science fiction book club to thirteen bookstores in an afternoon, just in downtown Portland. That did not include the Walden Books, the B. Dalton Books, or the two local Book Vault stores that were all at malls in the suburbs were we lived. Then B&N and Borders came to town and we lost so many bookstores. Except for our own local chain, Powell’s Books, which thankfully is still with us.

    All that said, I’m now a fan of B&N, and am so to learn they have taken the approach of empowering their local stores to respond to their own communities. They’ve also been good to be as an indie author. I’m very glad they are still around.

    Thanks for the update. Have a great week!

    • Dale, Daunt is reducing the store sizes, as you mention. Saves on rent and makes for a more intimate atmosphere. Plus they’re getting rid of non-book merchandise that uses space.

      In our small MT town, Borders was the behemoth that tanked five great indie stores. Then Borders fell and we were left with only three used bookstores. Two also carry new books by local authors. I always support them.

      Powell’s is the ultimate!

  10. Glad to know Barnes & Noble is making a comeback, Debbie. I used to work as a B&N cashier and I enjoyed my colleagues and the bookstore — until it became a toy store with books.

  11. My local B&N closed over ten years ago when a local university acquired the land and jacked up the rent. It’s never reopened. I give B&N my business by owning a Nook and giving the siblings’ kids and all my nerd friends B&N gift certificates.

    Before the Kindle and the Nook, B&N was one of the pioneers of ebooks. They provided the platform for Rocket Books ebook readers. The Rocket died when they were bought out by a major corporation who realized that readers will never sell like TVs and junked the product. Idjits.

  12. Pingback: Barnes & Noble Makes a Comeback – The Passive Voice

  13. The last time I stopped into the Annapolis B&N, I noticed that most of the toys, games, and misc. non-book stuff had disappeared. Good riddance. I’d begun to wonder if B&N was a toy store that had a side job as a book seller. I hope they make it.

  14. I work for Barnes & Noble. Eight years. Started as a bookseller and now part of the management team. I’ve been part of the team implementing the changes in our store. It’s been exciting witnessing the positive results. James Daunt is a breath of fresh air and brought Barnes and Noble back to life.

    • D Roberts, thanks for providing an insider’s perspective! Being part of the positive changes must be rewarding for you. Best wishes for your ongoing career at B&N.

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