The pandemic has sparked a book craze — and Barnes & Noble is cashing in

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Even more surprising for skeptics who see the chain withered in the face of Amazon’s rise, the retailer says teens and tweens are helping fuel the boom.

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Thanks to the pandemic, a surprising number of consumers are once again devouring books — in print — and Barnes & Noble is cashing in.

125 year old series, Taken two years ago for $683 million Billionaire Paul Singer’s hedge fund Elliott Management has reported double-digit sales growth in the books so far this year compared to 2019 before the coronavirus outbreak.

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Even more surprising for skeptics who see the chain withered in the face of Amazon’s rise, the retailer says teens and tweens are helping fuel the boom. of sale manga, or graphic novel, up to 500 percent at some stores at Barnes & Noble, where Friday and Saturday nights are crowded with young adults.

across the industry, american sales of books These are up 12 percent since August this year compared to the same period a year ago – and up 20 percent from 2019, according to market research company NPD Group.

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“There hasn’t been a double-digit growth in books since Amazon came out,” Barnes & Noble chief executive James Dant told The Post in an interview.

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These types of numbers are encouraging for Elliott, a fund known for hold high positions in public companies And agitating for change: In this case, he bought out the entire B&N as a fixer-upper. A source familiar with the matter says Elliot is about halfway through his plan that will eventually bring the bookseller back to the public markets — or sell it to another private buyer.

Dunt, who ran Elliott’s UK-based Waterstones book chain before being tapped to run B&N, says he is already seeing the fruits of his transformations, including an interior overhaul of the chain’s 600-plus stores. And a new management philosophy is included that empowers local owners to make more decisions about what books they will stock.

Barnes & Noble is also moving away from its signature green color scheme, which dominates the signage on the carpeting, wallpaper, and even book shelves in vintage stores. Renovated stores are brighter with abundant overhead lighting and more open floor space.

Barnes & Noble’s overall sales are up about 6 percent from 2019, Dunt said, and that’s with fewer stores — 605 compared to 628 in 2019. He declined to give an exact dollar amount for revenue or profit.

Elliott portfolio manager Paul Best, the firm’s European head of private equity, said Barnes & Noble is now “more profitable” than it was before.

“It was going through a long period of decline in both revenue and profits – for at least a decade,” he told The Post. “Two years in, the team has halted the decline and now has a base from which to grow revenue and profit.”

B&N’s Daunt plans to open 12 new stores in February and March alone – after opening eight and closing a few stores in 2020 and 2021. Some of the new stores will also be about a quarter of the typical 25,000 square size. foot space, Dunt said, adding the chain could now drive the same amount of drive from an 8,000-square-foot store to a 25,000-square-foot store.

“We are ready to open a lot of new stores,” he said.

A source familiar with the matter says Elliot is excited about funding the bookseller’s development and that the business is profitable. It had gone through a “long period” of declines in both revenue and profits, the source said, but the decline has halted over the past two years under Elliott.

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Dunt said most of the growth is coming from increased foot traffic in stores — not online sales.

“I’m sure Amazon is doing great, and independent booksellers too,” Dunt said. “The pie is huge.”

Publishers are also noticing B&N’s change.

“We are seeing the positive impact of improved store layouts, recommendations, fresher selections, and vibrant merchandising and displays, and operational improvements, all of which are driving sales growth,” Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette Book Group, said in an email.

Will the sales of books remain strong even after the pandemic is over, that is the big question.

“Everyone is wondering if this is a permanent change or how long it will last, but it’s in almost every category right now,” book publishing consultant Jane Friedman told The Post.

At B&Ns, large rectangular tables that hold stacks of books—sometimes at deep discounts—have been replaced for smaller round ones that Dunt says are more conducive to browsing and shopping. (And the discount books were moved to the back of the store, freeing up valuable real estate from the front.)

once cluttered with non-book-related items—like batteries, Vera Bradley handbags, and hot fizzy bottles Water – Stores are now configured by managers, who are expected to reflect the tastes of their local communities.

At the White Plains store in Westchester, this meant moving Spanish-language books from the back corner to the front of the store, to appeal to the community’s larger bilingual community, store manager Sean Carroll told The Post.

At the Cortland Manor store, the managers decided to move the entertainment autobiographies – which were excluding other biographies.

“If you’re excited about the new Julie Andrews book, you’re not looking for something on Presidents, so we pulled all of our entertainment books from other autobiographies and put them in the movies section,” said store manager Alison Demato. .

The old B&N method would have restricted the kinds of changes in which books could be displayed as granular from headquarters and where they were to be displayed. But it’s the type of ownership that Dunt says he encourages.

To be sure, there are plenty of obstacles ahead of Barnes & Noble, not the least of which is a drop in its cafe business and newsstand sales.

Magazine sales have been off “slightly” since 2019, Dunt said, while the cafe has struggled to retain both staff and customers as the Delta version makes it less appealing to sit for hours at a restaurant. According to a person familiar with the matter, music is also a declining segment.

“There is still work to be done and there are parts of the stores where they don’t need to be,” the person said.

To read more from the New York Post, Click here.


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