Why Barnes & Noble Should Stock Competitive Titles In Stores

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Why Barnes & Noble Should Stock Competitive Titles In Stores by Tim Sanders

November 20, 2012

Last year, Tim Ferriss famously left his traditional publisher (Crown/Random House) for digital pastures with Amazon.  He believed he didn't need his publisher for marketing, and decided to participate in a publishing revolution 

Not surprisingly, Barnes and Noble has decided not to carry Amazon's original titles in their brick and mortar stores, including Ferriss' new tome, The Four Hour Chef.  The reasoning is tit-for-tat.  Since Amazon doesn't release their original titles in Nook format, BN is retaliating by not carrying them in the stores.  No eBook?  No book book on the shelves!  While it seems like good school yard justice, it's not a smart business move.  It's not going to crush the success of Amazon's publishing business as even Ferriss has found a way to make hay from BN's move.  (He claims that his book is the 'most banned book in history, prohibited at over 1100 locations.) This has led, typically, to a lot of blogging and hand wringing about whether his use of the word ban is appropriate or in good taste.  And it's exposure is climbing and consumer curiousity is growing. 

I'm not going to weigh in here, because there is a more pressing issue to be discussed: THE READER.  When a popular book is not available in a store, it creates an inconvenience to the customer (the reader).  They either need to order it online, then try and wrap their head around the BN-Amazon scrum to understand why it's not and never will be in stock.  There's no way that a casual reader can discover this title in the store, and benefit from it's self-help content. (Again, not weighing in here on the book, as I haven't read it...but I have met many people who's lives were improved after reading The Four Hour Work Week).

The value of book stores lies in offering readers arm's length availability of titles they want, and an open environment to browse through books and discover them.  The reader isn't a shareholder of BN nor really cares who wins the Amazon/BN war.  I am always surprised how often business people think that war is a fitting analogy for winning customers.  The customer doesn't want to do business with the last company standing.  They want to do business with the company that delivers the best experience and most benefits.  In my view, business competition is much more like a dog show than a UFC grudge match!  BN's move only drives people to Amazon. The book promotion raises demand, which will eventually be fulfilled via Amazon - and in many cases, as a Kindle purchase, which further locks in readers to Amazon's platform. This is the first of many books that will not be in BN's stores, and Ferriss is not the only major author that's signed with Amazon.  So over time, this blunder will compound over time.

What should BN do?  Continue to stock books they think the reader wants, or should discover.  Put a deal to Amazon, offering not only distribution, but merchandising support, in exchange for Amazon making the book's available to BN to offer in Nook format (conversions at BN's expense).  If Amazon refuses, then they are the bad guys, putting the readers last.  To my knowledge, that deal has never been on the table.  Even if Amazon says no, BN should take the high road (and advertise it), showing readers that they are still at the center of the table.

By putting the reader first, they can continue to maintain the value proposition of bookstores, and prove they care about the customer above all eles.  I feel bad for BN store employees, that have to explain why NYT best selling books aren't available in the store.  If you polled them, they'd side with the reader over the brass each time.  And when it comes to winning the war for the Customer, remember that Jeff Bezos always spells the word, "Customer."  Who do you think will win?

The Tim Ferriss Controversy Around His "Banned Book"
Barnes & Noble Vs Amazon: Book Wars Get More Interesting



Tim Sanders

About Tim Sanders

Tim is a bestselling author and former Yahoo! executive with a mission to disrupt the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries and share knowledge with authors looking to publish and market high-quality books.

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