Barnes and Noble hopes to turn the page on falling sales

A Barnes & Noble bookstore is viewed on August 20, 2013 in New York City.

Barnes and Noble has high hopes for its new CEO, Michael Huseby.  The bookseller says Huseby, the former head of Nook, has “proven to be an excellent financial and business executive." 

Unfortunately, the Nook became a plot twist Barnes and Noble didn’t see coming.

"It's one of the great ironies of publishing in recent years," says Jim Milliot, an editorial director with Publisher’s Weekly, "Barnes and Noble was praised for getting into the digital early with its Nook reader and its Nook bookstore.  And within two years time, the Nook went from the savior of the company, to right now, it’s a bit of a problem."

A bit of a problem the new CEO Michael Huesby knows plenty about. He recently oversaw the nook, which saw sales plunge more than 30 percent last quarter. But Milliot says Huseby shouldn't be held accountable -- he stepped in last summer after the strategy for the device had already collapsed. Now says Milliot if Barnes and Noble wants to take on its competition, it has to make the Nook work.

“As much as they want to get out of the hardware device business, they really can’t,” he says.

Publishing industry consultant Michael Norris says to gain new customers, the bookseller needs to look beyond books.  He’s reminded of this every day during his morning commute.

“I walk through metro north on the way into Manhattan, and everybody I see with a tablet is doing something other than reading,” Norris says. “Whether it’s watching Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. These tablets are built for all kinds of media, not just reading of texts.”

Norris says just having an eReader doesn’t make a consumer buy more books. He says Barnes and Noble should explore selling apps, games, and even video. And the company needs to step up its ads. "I never thought they were bold enough with their message or their advertising.”

Norris says, take the ad for the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight, which promoted reading in bed without waking up your partner. What it needed to do, he says, was give consumers a reason to remember Barnes and Noble.

“Would it have killed them to have a same sex couple in that ad?,” he asks. “There was nothing really to recall about the ad."

Norris says advertisements for Amazon aren’t that memorable, either.  But at least the giant online retailer can afford to buy a lot more of them.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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