Category Archives: Publishing

Can the slow crumbling of Barnes & Noble be stopped?

I don’t often write about the business side of publishing because I don’t feel like I’m an authority on it, but this post was spurred by a conversation I had when I went into my local store to get my weekend coffee and have my little “out of office” writing session.

The barista told me that last Monday Barnes & Noble had had a massive layoff. I think she was glad that she still had a job. I could see the shock of it still in her eyes. Now, she’s a very nice girl (I say girl only because she’s younger than me), and she’s got good people skills, so she’d be able to recover if she did lose her job. I personally hope she doesn’t, and I’m saying that from the point of view that I enjoy our short conversations when I go in there. She’s always cheery and has great recommendations if I’m not in a mood for something particular; she’s never suggested a bad drink.

So, when she told me of the layoffs, I remarked that Barnes & Noble really needed to quit doing business like it was still 1890. I could see the question in her eyes, but she had to go onto the next customer and didn’t have the opportunity to ask what I meant by it.

What did I mean?

I meant that anyone who thinks that traditional publishing isn’t operating like it did a hundred years ago is fooling themselves. Anyone who thinks that a publisher is going to take care of them is fooling themselves. Anyone who thinks that an agent will get them a good deal with a traditional publisher is a damn fool!

If you think I’m talking about only writers in this, you’re wrong.

Barnes & Noble is a company that thinks that traditional publishers are going to take care of them.

Foolish, foolish, foolish.

Let’s expose a dirty little reality that they wish they could keep secret: all of their tables at the front of the store and the end caps are all paid spots. Read that again: Paid spots. Every book that sits there has purchased the right to sit there. Not because they are a best seller as the signs would claim. Nope. A publisher as paid for that spot in the store as advertising for the book.

How long before those books end up in the discount bin? Not long.

Why? Well, because the publisher needs to get the next book out. They literally rotate book stock as if it were fruit or meat. If it doesn’t get sold, it gets discounted.

Now, it’s no secret that the publishing industry has suffered a major blow with the changes in technology. Worse, they are still sitting around on their hands wondering what to do about it. They are losing money and more and more authors are moving to indie or getting smart about hybrid careers. A hybrid author is one who is an indie publisher and also continues to publish with traditional publishers. So if publishers are losing money and they buy advertising spots within Barnes & Noble, doesn’t it seem logical that of course Barnes & Noble is taking a loss too?

I’ve seen so much advise that says that people trying to “make it big” in whatever they are doing, just need to publish a book. These days, that doesn’t even have to be through a publisher, who use to be a gatekeeper keeping the garbage out. Now, anyone can figure out how to publish their own book. It’s not a hard process.

But that’s crappy advice.

Why? Hello, look at Barnes & Noble. Selling books is hard. Why? Awareness. It’s hard in this whole big churning that is selling books, with indies, hybrids, traditional, all kicking out books all the time. There is just so much and so many other things to divert people’s attention: Facebook, Twitter, superhero movies, sports games, so-called news, bad politics, even more terrible laws being created, Netflix originals, gotta-have gadgets, new makeup removers, etc. Life comes fast.  Reading is a luxury a lot of people don’t find time for.

Yet, reading is what most people need to do. Take a moment. Slow down. Let your imagination breathe.

There are stories out there for everyone.

But our schools insist on what our children MUST read. Instead of letting children explore stuff they might like and just letting them enjoy it, we force them to read something deathly boring and then “find meaning” in it. No wonder no one can find meaning in their own lives. No wonder no one respects the lives of others.

Boy, I could really go down a rabbit hole there, but I have this little voice inside me that says to keep in my fiction. Another dystopian story anyone?

So what is the answer for Barnes & Noble?

I have been pondering that question the whole time I’ve been in the Barnes & Noble cafe, eating my Toffee Almond Bar and enjoying my hot, venti White Chocolate Mocha. Not a single person has a book in front of them. One woman might be reading on her device, but there’s another party sitting at a table talking quietly. I can see one man reading magazines – he’s the closest. And, some people behind me did take about a novel, but I don’t think they have a book out either. And, I’m writing this blog and wondering if I should really hit the post button on this or not. Do I really want to take on this monster?

I don’t even have my own answer, but I do remember when I would bring my Nook to Barnes and Noble because I could read any book in their system for free for an hour. I bought a lot of books that I started that way.

I would certainly hate to lose the Barnes & Noble cafe. It’s one of the best things going for the store. My children and I have spent considerable time here. I miss our Hastings store terribly and I don’t want to lose Barnes & Noble.

So what’s the answer?

I use to be a Barnes & Noble stockholder. I sold all of it because they were being stupid about company operations. I saw this coming back then.

I hate the fact that they don’t support indie authors, even local ones. Oh, there’s ways to hack into the system, but I don’t like playing games, nor am I ready for some of the other things that come with being a small press publisher. I like being a solo publisher right now. I’m working on perfecting my game here before I move up. But, it would be nice if I could sell books on consignment through my local/regional Barnes & Noble stores like I did at Hastings. Hmm, there’s part of an answer, plus it supports local — wouldn’t you be more interested in local authors than someone a faceless company has told you that you SHOULD read or your a nobody?

Okay, not every indie author is going to be wonderful. I’ve read a lot of people that need to practice their craft for a few more years. But we don’t live in that world (and the painter/illustrator in me is glad for that). Everybody has a chance. But trust me, the books that aren’t quality are going to sink to the bottom like sludge. We are already seeing that. The people that are serious writers are putting out product. The smart ones realize that they have to create that product as well as figure out how to repackage and repurpose what they have done because it’s all about visibility.  Yes, the paid spots at the front of Barnes & Noble do sell some of those books. And there has to be new product to keep people coming back to the store. That is just the same for the indie author.

You did notice that I have nearly 20 books out? There is a reason for that: I needed more product so that readers had 1) more to read by me when they did find me, 2) a variety of things to read in case something wasn’t their “cup of tea,” 3) a number of ways for people to find me. I am being as aggressive with product creation as I can. And this summer, I will be aggressive with repurposing the things I do have. See, it’s not always about creating new product, but it’s about rethinking what you already have.

This is where Barnes & Noble is failing. They don’t want to work with indie authors. Of course, indie authors are a bane to their paid spots on the shelves. But that’s getting to be a vast majority of the books out there. You’d think that they’d be figuring out how to license a piece of the indie author’s copyright to repackage it for something that will help them.

Or, is this what Barnes & Noble is trying to do with the print division of Nook Press? I wonder how willing Barnes & Noble will be with getting book that are printed through their press into the store. That might be a question for my barista friend. Or possibly the store manager here.  I wonder how aware the employees are of Nook Press and what its doing. I find that communication is vital in successful organizations. Want to know why classes at your local Michael’s craft store don’t work? It’s because the employees don’t know a damn thing about them. If you do have good classes at your Michael’s, it’s because 1) the teacher made the class popular by word of mouth, or 2) the employees actually knew about the classes and boy do you have a rare store. Enough said there.

If Barnes &  Noble wants to survive, they really need to cut their dependence upon traditional publishers who are also slowly sinking under the weight of the times. Traditional publishers haven’t learned how to plug their own leaks and it will drown everyone still insisting on linking arms and not letting go. Barnes & Noble needs to figure out how to work with indies, whether that be through consignment or some other fashion. Let us in the door. We’re here. We’re hungry for readers (which you have). And we want visibility too. Why not link arms with us because we’re on the rising tide?

If Barnes & Noble wants to survive, they need to figure out where their place is in this new world where an author can take their books directly to readers without needing a distributor and a bookstore. How can they entice authors to use them? Hint: my experience with Nook as not been the best, but I can say that they have made improvements. I still think it could be better. Losing their worldwide platform hurt. Barnes & Noble needs to quit being a baby about this. It feels like they want to go somewhere with Nook, but they aren’t willing to take a risk. They need to find a Steve Jobs visionary to head Nook (although they may have ticked off enough authors that they might just have to scrap the Nook program and start something entirely new).

Barnes & Noble should figure out how to do Amazons KDP Select program without the exclusivity (making it more like Kobo’s program, but then figuring out how to do it even better!). They need a rock star idea. How to get the indie authors to flock to them? Remember, it is all about product. The more product you have to sell, the more chance of making a sale you have. And it’s not about discounts. Apple is proof of that. Yes, they need a Steve Jobs clone.

To say that I have a love/hate relationship with Barnes & Noble is an understatement. As I said, I like to sit in the cafe and write. I don’t have an experience like this anywhere else and I don’t want to find somewhere else. I don’t want my cafe to close. I like having physical books close to me and being able to peruse titles at my leisure. Yet, as an indie author/publisher, I hate the fact that they don’t support me in my books. When I was doing a signing at Hastings, I use to take away $40-80 each time and that was when I only had 4-7 titles. Hastings got a cut of about $50-90 each time. Okay, so they aren’t going to stay open like that, but it was money in their pocket by just setting out a table for me.  Barnes & Noble has over 630 stores nationwide.  One author in each of their stores, doing net sales of $75 would be $47,250 for one day, $94,500 for the weekend in their pocket. Do this for a year, and they would have $4,914,000. Guess what? That’s not income that they have now because THEY WON’T LET INDIE AUTHORS IN!

Okay, Barnes & Noble, I just did some math for you. Do you know how easy this would be? Farmers markets do it. Certainly you can too. You have readers who come to gather in your store. Give authors access to them. Let me call up a store before I travel so I can plan a time to be there and bring my own books (a simple little consignment contract) and let me sell my books.

Writers: I know some of you just panicked when you thought about having to sell your own books. Yeah, sorry. Get over it. Get over yourself. Get off your butt. If you want to have a career, you have to learn to sell your own books. Yeah, we don’t like it. You need to learn to coax your inner salesman out. Remember that selling is nothing but sharing enthusiasm and you will never find anyone more enthusiastic about your book than you! Selling is a skill that is learned, just like writing. Spend some time educating yourself on it. I say again: get over it.

There is no guarantee that the money mentioned above can be brought in, but right now, you are missing out on every potential dollar and that ought to make you realize that you are missing out on a big, big possibility and one that Amazon and Kobo can’t duplicate because they don’t have stores already in place. This is how you find your place.

Now I’m not suggesting that Barnes & Noble takes every indie author. I believe that there should be some qualifications to “sit at the table.” First, you need to be a writer, not someone who has written a book or two — unless, of course, that person is a non-fiction writer and moderately knowledgable about the field in which they are writing. Second, the cover and formatting need to professional quality. Every store book manager should be able to look at the book and say whether it is professional or not. Okay, can speak to this: I’ve spent years developing my “house style” for Morning Sky Studios. Just last week I sent several screenshots to Vellum because I love their formatting program but I need to have some more control so that I can make the print versions that come out of Vellum look like what I have already set up as my house style.

Writers: if you haven’t seen Vellum, you really need to check it out. It will make formatting ebooks a breeze, and if you don’t already have a set print format that you like (a house style so to speak), it can do that as well. It is for Mac only (sorry, PC users — yeah, I had to buy a Mac just to run this program — cost of doing business, don’t whine! And if you really can’t even afford it, check out Draft2Digital’s ebook creator — just as cool for ebooks but not nearly the variety. Stick with what you can afford for the moment, but be aware of the options. P.S. Vellum does run on Mac in Cloud – that’s a Mac that is cloud-based and you purchase time – an option to having to buy a Mac).

Also, I know a lot of times I got to Barnes & Noble and I’m looking for a book which I don’t find in the store. I own two Nooks, both of which the gnomes in my house have stolen, even though I bought a bright pink case for the second one I purchased. So, what if I could check out a Nook from the sales counter and look at the ebook version of the book I’m looking for there in store? I think this would be awesome. I bet it would increase the number of purchases I make from Barnes & Noble. Strike while the iron is hot. Oh, and if these page reads could count toward the author’s B&N-version-of-KDP, how cool would that be? Score!

Well, this post has been long enough and I need to be moving on. It’s time for me to leave Barnes and Noble for this week. I hope the doors are still open next week.