Average sales per square foot
About 80% of Barnes & Noble’s books are bought and allocated by its head office, while all promotions are decided centrally, according to Mr. Daunt and publishing executives.
Publishers pay tens of thousands of dollars for chain bookstores to display their new books on promotional tables for a few weeks.
That means shoppers at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan will see the same titles on display as visitors to a branch at a mall in Idaho Falls. Books that don’t sell are sent back to publishers.
Mr. Daunt stopped accepting placement payments from publishers for Waterstones, which he said decreased the share of books stores sent back to 3% from 25%. He is aiming for a similar reduction at Barnes & Noble.
“You need to try to put the right books in the right places and it requires you to trust the local people to make the right decisions,” he said.
At Waterstones, central buyers send stores limited copies of books they think will work at a given location but further orders are made by local buyers, with input from store staff. Stores are sent a daily compilation of reviews and upcoming media appearances, while booksellers are encouraged to trade tips with neighboring stores.
“You get lots of information but no instruction,” said Mr. Daunt. “It’s the opposite at Barnes & Noble.”
Brian Murray, CEO of HarperCollins Publishers, said American book sales are more media-driven than British ones. That, he said, could leave Barnes & Noble stores that prioritize local input vulnerable to a shortage of books for which there is national demand, sending customers into Amazon’s arms.
Handwritten notes recommend books at the Piccadilly Circus Waterstones store.
Saabira Chadhuri/The Wall Street Journal
“James has the experience, he knows in his gut how to be a bookseller,” he said. “He has to quickly learn how the U.S. is different to the U.K. and figure out how to execute on his vision.”
HarperCollins Publishers is a unit of The Wall Street Journal’s parent company, News Corp.
On a recent morning at the Piccadilly Circus Waterstones, Europe’s largest bookstore at 50,000 square feet, a sign described books piled on a table near the cash register as “devastating masterpieces.”
Stuart Collie and other staff came up with the theme and decided what books to include. Mr. Collie proudly pointed to a table piled with William Boyd’s “Love is Blind” and another featuring “There There” by Tommy Orange, both authors he decided to promote.
“It’s a really nice feeling when a book sells because of you,” he said.
Write to Saabira Chaudhuri at firstname.lastname@example.org
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