Barnes & Noble is like a phoenix rising from the ashes—its sales, yes, but more than that, its reputation. Once derided as an independent bookstore killer, the New York Times takes a look at how the chain is regarded these days: as crucial. A key line from Elizabeth A. Harris: "Today, virtually the entire publishing industry is rooting for Barnes & Noble—including most independent booksellers." That's largely because they're aligned against Amazon, which sells more physical books than any other industry player. But it's also partly due to "discovery"—something Amazon not only struggles to replicate, but actually reduces, per one independent publisher. As Harris explains, the process of buying a book on Amazon doesn't involve much in the way of "accidental finds, the book you pick up in a store because of its cover."
That's still an experience largely relegated to Barnes & Noble's 600 locations and independent shops—but many towns don't have the latter, and Barnes & Noble generally has room to stock and display far more titles. It also remains a key book-signing stop. As such, writers, agents, and publishers have warmed to the chain once more. Harris also gives some credit to James Daunt, who has been CEO since 2019 after having turned the UK's Waterstones around. He took a similar tack with Barnes & Noble, encouraging stores to personalize their selections based on local preferences, ending the practice whereby publishers could pay to occupy prime store locations, and giving the green-light to remodeling. Even with pandemic closures, sales were up 3% in 2021 over 2019, with book sales specifically up 14%. (Read the full story.)