"Barnes & Noble Wants to Become More Than Books"

Oh, hey — here's a terrible idea:

To that end, [Barnes & Noble Chief Executive Ron] Boire is leading a push to rebrand Barnes & Noble as more than just a bookstore by expanding its offerings of toys, games, gadgets and other gifts and reshaping the nation’s largest bookstore chain into a “lifestyle brand.”

You might argue that Barnes & Noble won't be able to survive by just selling books. I would refute your argument by pointing out that Barnes & Noble stores are already stuffed to the rafters with cheap plastic crap. The last Barnes & Noble I went to was painfully light on stock and crammed full of junk that nobody needs.

Here are some observations:

  • People go to bookstores to browse. Online retailers suck at replicating the act of browsing.

  • If you're only going to carry bestsellers and the most popular books of the moment, you'd better be an airport bookstore or Amazon Books. People browse because they expect to find something they didn't know that they wanted. If your bookstore looks like it doesn't have any books on the shelves, people won't browse there.

  • Nobody in the history of the world has said "let's go to the lifestyle brand and buy some things." Nobody cares about your "lifestyle brand" except the people you're paying to create your lifestyle brand.

When Barnes & Noble eventually goes out of business — which, after reading this story, may be sooner rather than later — a bunch of writers will vomit up some think-pieces about the death of the book as a reason for Barnes & Noble's demise when, in fact, they should link to this rebranding story. Lack of focus is how businesses die; this is what killed Borders, and it's what will kill Barnes & Noble, too.