By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Daunt: ‘All This Data and They Can’t Interpret It’In New York City today (January 14), the US Book Industry Study Group (BISG) has announced that Barnes & Noble and Waterstones CEO James Daunt will be the keynote speaker on April 24 at the organization’s annual meeting at the Harvard Club.
Daunt, of course, is a popular speaker on the conference circuit as he grapples with the long-limping American bookstore chain. He’s also known for a refreshing tone of candor in his public comments in an industry long known more for genteel, upbeat statements than forthright commentary.
As Publishing Perspectives reported from London, Daunt quickly secured the attention of hundreds of attendees at The Bookseller’s year-ending 2019 The FutureBook Live conference by telling them that Barnes & Noble’s 627 retail locations were “the most crucifyingly boring stores” and that Barnes & Noble’s corporate culture had “degraded the career of a bookseller.”
Daunt said he sees part of his mission to be re-establishing the importance of booksellers in the American stores and giving them the authority of local curation, something he’s known for doing at Waterstones in the UK.
A part of his point that will no doubt be of interest to the BISG membership is that the boredom a consumer might experience at a Barnes & Noble store is baffling when you consider that the chain has a strong and longstanding loyalty program that delivers to the company what customers’ preferences are.
“They know what people want,” thanks to this data, Daunt told the FutureBook audience. “They have all this data and yet they can’t interpret it and they’ve been unable to manipulate that knowledge to deliver, in any way, decent bookstores.”
And when Publishing Perspectives moderated a panel discussion on bookselling in April at the Jerusalem International Book Forum, Daunt was asked if it isn’t the case that in each of the Waterstones stores, staffers are allowed to curate their inventory to meet what they know to be their own shoppers’ interests, he said that those staffers “don’t only have some choice” of inventory, “they have complete choice”—clearly something that should be supported by strong interpretation of a store’s consumer data.
Specific elements of the April program are to include, in fact, a session titled “Real-Time Reporting and Bigger Data: Using Technology To Improve Partner Communications” with the UK’s Book Industry Communication’s (BIC) Karina Urqhart.
Daunt went on to speak in Jerusalem with real concern, however, about how difficult he and his Waterstones teams can find it to break out new voices and less established writers, particularly when mainstream news media struggle to provide adequate visibility and promotional support through criticism and features. Supply chain issues carry subtle but potent relationships to issues of cultural taste and marketing.
“The difficutly we have in breaking new authors, new voices, particularly on the literary end,” he said in response to a comment from HarperCollins’ Judith Curr, “is a reality” that can be seen amplified in translation work in particular.
“There’s less coverage in the newspapers and less other ways to advance” such content, Daunt said. “But our DNA, indeed our raison d’être, does properly lie toward the literary” where much good translated content enters the marketplace.
BISG Theme: ‘Building a Smarter Supply Chain’
The theme for the April 24 BISG event—not surprisingly for the organization’s long-running focus—is “Building a Smarter Supply Chain.” And perhaps a cannier and more logical use of consumer data referred to by Daunt in London will be applied to other parts of the industry in some of the panels and discussions that are expected to be on the program ahead of his keynote. The organization says its intent in the program is to “consider and explore ways the industry can work together to improve operations and adapt to take advantage of new opportunities.”
In a prepared statement for today’s announcement, Brian O’Leary, BISG’s executive director, is quoted saying, “Barnes & Noble has played a leading role in shaping the industry and its use of standards.
“Since [James Daunt] took the helm last summer, people throughout the industry have been interested in what Barnes & Noble will do next. We’re honored to host one of his first talks on this side of the Atlantic.”
And BISG board chair Andrew Savikas is quoted in today’s media messaging, saying, “The annual meeting is a time for us to convene as an industry, amplify challenges and opportunities, and discuss potential solutions and innovations. We expect that this year’s event will continue to build on past successes, while also bringing some new voices to the conversation.”
The BISG annual meeting will be open to both members and non-members (at different price points), and early-bird admission sales begin this morning. Information on ticketing and the event is here.
More from Publishing Perspectives on the Business Industry Study Group is here, more on Barnes & Noble is here, and more on bookselling is here.