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A Daunt Book Store, 193 Haverstock Hill, London. PHOTO BY: Ewan Munro, via Flickr.

Will big changes come to bookselling?

By Olive T Reed

Are things about to change for America’s book-buying public? If you believe that old saying, “what goes around comes around,” then you will be encouraged by the news from the bookselling industry: Barnes & Noble has a new CEO.

Not just any CEO, mind you, but this one is a book lover who became a bookseller. And, here is the part I like: He believes bookstores should cater to the communities they serve. That belief addresses one of my problems with Barnes & Noble: They feel more like warehouses than bookstores; going in one is pretty much like going into any of the others. If you don’t believe that, visit some of the dozen that serve the Atlanta area and see for yourself.

You may have accepted sameness as natural with chain stores. But that is not how James Daunt, the B&N CEO, thinks. He thinks book reading tastes vary from one part of a town, or one part of a country, to another. He thinks store managers should be choosing their inventory and prominently displaying books based on what will sell in the local area, not the ones dictated by headquarters.

His is not an untested idea. In England, Daunt owned a small chain of bookstores that operated on the principles described. In 2011 the failing Waterstones sold for $53 million, and James Daunt became CEO. In 2018, the hedge fund, Elliott Advisers, acquired Waterstones. It is now Britain’s largest bookstore chain with 296 stores. In June of this year, Elliott Advisers acquired Barnes & Noble and its 630 stores for $638 million and named Daunt the CEO.

Daunt believes selecting a book in person and walking out of the store with it in hand is a more satisfying experience than buying online. His methodology was successful with his small chain and with Waterstones. But we know that what works in the UK will not necessarily work in the U.S.

I hope he is right. A long time ago, American towns and villages had independent booksellers, but the big chains ate them. Then Amazon ate the big chains. B&N and Books A Million are the only ones left.

If Daunt can do it, perhaps book shopping will once again be fun.

Ed note: Interested in books? Check out the award-winning BOOKS pages in the News section of Smoke Signals every month.

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