In this installment of our Centennial Series on companies that are over 100 years old, we are talking to Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt. The last few decades have thrown some hurdles in Barnes & Noble’s way, however. Far from being the monster that inspired the plot of the movie You’ve Got Mail, it’s had to face down a new Goliath called Amazon and the general decline of big-box retail stores. After years of closures and declining revenues, Barnes & Noble was bought out by activist investors in 2019, who installed Daunt as CEO, and he’s managed to turn things around by doing two main things.
First, he has decentralized operations of the stores, letting each store act like a local bookshop and giving his booksellers more control over what titles they sell and display. He immediately ended a system that allowed publishers to pay for special placement in bookstores, which he said corrupted the entire system in service of short-term profits. Second, he’s using Barnes & Noble’s scale to build a purchasing and distribution pipeline that serves as the rest of the book industry’s competitor to Amazon.
This is about as Decoder as it gets. Daunt managed to rescue Barnes & Noble by upending the org chart and undoing the old culture while simultaneously pivoting the business model.