James Daunt

Interview with James Daunt, CEO Barnes & Noble

By John Prince

We recently attended the IBPA Publishing University and listened to James Daunt, the keynote speaker. He has been CEO of Barnes & Noble booksellers for a little over a year and has consistently made headlines from the Wall Street Journal to Hallard Press Gazette. He did it again on April 8 with a 90-minute Q&A with Karla Olson, chair of the Independent Book Publishers Association.

The main theme of the virtual conversation was how B&N policies now and in the future are going to affect indie authors and publishers. Although he had little new and startling to say, he did clarify some points.

He differentiated the “chain booksellers” like B&N from the online retailers (like Amazon) and the truly independent neighborhood bookstores. Each, he believes, has a role to play in the book selling industry. The online booksellers are for readers who know what they want and don’t want or need help. Amazon, he admitted, “are terribly efficient” at getting product to the customer “whether it’s a book or a pair of sneakers.”

The neighborhood bookstore he likened to a friendly neighbor who knew the customer and could knowledgably recommend books. But, because of their physical size limitations, their inventory was limited to books they knew would sell.

Barnes & Noble strives to be somewhere in the middle, says Daunt. They want each store to have an individually curated inventory which contains the ‘best sellers” as well as other lesser-known books that might interest their readers. To compliment the inventory, they must have dynamic personalities that know customers and can lead them to experiment.

Daunt is also a small indie publisher and CEO of Waterstone Books, a chain bookseller in the UK.

He says that bookstores should be places where people of all ages can “hang out” without feeling pressure to buy. He likens the stores as a “safe place” for latchkey kids waiting for their parents to get home.

“Look at the Manga section after school. The kids are shoulder to shoulder.” Bookstores should provide enjoyment, he says.

While bookstores like B&N must carry the best sellers, they also have a responsibility to have local books. His standards are high. The success criteria for a “local” book include the cover, the feel, the paper, and most important of all, the content. Authors, he says can make proposals to local B&N managers with an information sheet and, obviously, their book.

“Some self-published books are not up to standard,” he notes and won’t be considered. “Books also have to be accessible and easy for us to order and restock.” He cites IngramSpark as one source for B&N book orders.

Having a good seller at one or several B&N bookstores can “amplify sales.” The head office buyers will take notice and decide if the book would sell in other stores.

Daunt also believes that publishers and bookstores owe more to the livelihood of authors. A publisher friend of his recently retired after 40 years in the business. The retiree noted that he paid out the same amount in advance money to average authors 40 years ago as he paid yesterday. In other words, authors have been losing money every year for the past 40 years.

He did give grudging credit to the Amazons of the world for changing the publishing industry. “We didn’t do it, so they did,” was his assessment.

More news from the IBPA University presentations coming up in future issues of Hallard Press Gazette.

 

Related Article: Update on Barnes and Noble “Local” policy

 

Local Success

The Writers League of the Villages has had success with the Barnes & Noble store in Sumter landing. Four World War II themed books by local authors have been featured on an end cap for several weeks.

Jenny Ferns, Ripple Effect
Mark Newhouse, Book 1 of The Devil’s Bookkeepers
Rita Boehm, One Soldier’s War
Linda Lee Keenan, With Love From Poland

On April 24 the books will change to thriller crime books with:

JJ Clarke, Dared to Run
Mel Harrison, The Ambassador is Missing
Ann Heathman, Liv to Tell
Phyllis Walters, Wives Who Kill

 

The cooperation came about after a group of writers made a personal visit to the B&N store manager, made a presentation, and showed their books.