Barnes & Noble on newsstands, products, and why magazines are the perfect addition to the bookstore

With 600+ stores across all 50 states, Barnes & Noble is the US’s largest bookstore chain. But of course, in today’s marketplace, it’s not all about books! We caught up with the company’s Director for Merchandise – Newsstand and Media departments, Krifka Steffey, at the recent DistriPress Congress in Portugal to find out more… 

“Barnes & Noble is currently in growth mode,” Steffey tells us at the outset. “We recently brought Paper Source – which is a gift and stationary store – into the fold, with their 130 locations. We are more than a bookstore, as we occupy a special place in most American’s hearts and have extremely high brand recognition.” 

“We sell a lot more than just books: toys and games, gifts and stationary, movies and music, and of course we have the best newsstands in the country. And we’re also now a meeting and hangout place, with our cafés always full of an interesting mix of people.” 

Did somebody say… magazines!? 

“Our magazines in particular are the perfect complement to books,” Steffey tells us, “because they have become so high quality and even specialised. Our stores carry an incredibly varied mix of products, and this also plays into the profitability of the company as we have some standard everyday items (and of course books!), but we bring in seasonal items as well, so each visit to B&N will have something new.” 

“But our Newsstands in particular contain more than just magazines, as we have also been successful in selling art cards (8 ½ x 11 photos of popular artists), posters, For the Love of Paper (paper books), which were created in conjunction with our publishing arm Union Square and Co. (formerly Sterling).”

One of the key focusses of Steffey’s on-stage conversation at DistriPress Congress was cover art, and how better relationships between creatives and distributors was helping to create more profitable products. 

“As merchants, our role is to think about what our customers want and expect from us, and that is a combination of looking forward and looking backward. By this I mean that we can use prior sales to try and predict buying behaviour, but also you have to be a bit of a psychic to think about what your customers want, but don’t know it yet.” 

“When it comes to Cover Rocket, which is the program that Alan Centofante and I presented at the Forum, it pulls together the cover of a magazine with the sales of that magazine at B&N. The reason why the B&N sales data is so important is that our customer represents a wide swathe of America.” 

“So by pulling together the cover and the data, publishers, art directors – anyone can see what the customers responded to. It gives the chance for anyone to see what was (or is currently) on our newsstands. This is an incredibly easy way to be IN a Newsstand and see what is happening in the marketplace from your computer screen.” 

“I remember when the first iPad came out… twelve years later we are still creating magazines… sure they are more expensive, but the demand still exists.”

It’s a programme that is in fact used exclusively for magazines, with a different dataset being used for book sales. But across the board, it’s clear that one of the reasons for Barnes & Noble’s success in recent years, is that as media at large – CDs, DVDs, computer games, etc. – has increasingly ‘gone digital’, a desire for ‘physical things’ amongst consumers has remained.    

“I remember when the first iPad came out and I was working for a magazine distributor at the time, Krifka tells us. “I recall that everyone said ‘THIS is the end!, no one will want the paper anymore, it is too convenient! Its sustainable!’ And here, twelve years later we are still creating magazines… sure they are more expensive, but the demand still exists.”

“In fact, I would argue that we have an even younger demographic reading magazines than we could ever have anticipated. People love things, like racoons and piranhas who are attracted to shiny things, humans like shiny things too.”

“Americans in particular like to collect things, and magazines are a great thing to collect as they represent and celebrate a particular period of time. You can go back to them time and time again and discover something you didn’t see before.” 

Don’t change the record!

When it comes to our enjoyment of physical collectables, particularly in the media world, the exec cites and example that will resonate with many, across the generations.

“The history of Vinyl is probably my favourite example of people thinking they know what customers will want and getting it wrong. Vinyl is a format that they tried to kill. In anticipation of mass acceptance of the CD and digital listening, they shut down and closed up the presses. But demand for the record was still there and now vinyl has picked up an additional, younger audience who is fanatical about the romance of a physical record.” 

“Now as buyers, we can’t get the amounts we need to satisfy demand. It’s also important to point out that magazines have really evolved into a true sensory experience, and half of the battle is proving to people that a magazine is more than a tabloid.”

Krifka, we will certainly help you out in competing in that battle! 


[Main image: Shutterstock.com/Anton Gvozdikov]

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