Can Britain’s Top Bookseller Save Barnes & Noble?

James Daunt fought Amazon and rescued the country’s biggest bookstore chain. Now comes Chapter 2. From a report: Barnes & Noble has been sliding toward oblivion for years. Nearly 400 stores have closed since 1997 — there are 627 now operating — and $1 billion in market value has evaporated in the last five years. This week, Elliott Advisors, the private equity firm that owns Waterstones, closed its deal to buy Barnes & Noble for $683 million. James Daunt — who in 2011 began to run Waterstones, Britain’s largest bookstore chain, when it was on the verge of bankruptcy and steered it out of a death spiral — will move to New York City this month and serve as the new chief executive. He has said little about his plans, but his playbook at Waterstones offers clues about what’s coming. His guiding assumption is that the only point of a bookstore is to provide a rich experience in contrast to a quick online transaction. And for now, the experience at Barnes & Noble isn’t good enough.

“Frankly, at the moment you want to love Barnes & Noble, but when you leave the store you feel mildly betrayed,” Mr. Daunt said over lunch at a Japanese restaurant near his office in Piccadilly Circus. “Not massively, but mildly. It’s a bit ugly — there’s piles of crap around the place. It all feels a bit unloved, the booksellers look a bit miserable, it’s all a bit run down. “And every year, fewer people come in, or people come in less often. That has to turn around. Otherwise …” The changes have filled Waterstones’ 289 shops, mostly in Britain, with books that customers actually want to buy, as opposed to the ones that publishers are eager to sell. And store managers have been given plenty of leeway to transform their shops into places that feel personally curated and decidedly uncorporate.

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