Barnes & Noble web traffic, business outlook hit all-time lows as it considers a sale

1 week ago by Andrew Thompson in Facts, Trends

Not too long ago, bookstores were central to the plot of the now-dated romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail. In this movie, a scrappy, independent bookstore known as The Shop Around the Corner feebly tries to evade Fox Books, a rapacious corporate monolith ran by a character played by Tom Hanks... And there's something about love in it somewhere.

Remember when Barnes & Noble ($NYSE:BKS) was the one to fear in the bookselling industry, so much that it was the inspiration behind Fox Books? Today, if that movie got an update, it would be about Jeff Bezos going after Tom Hanks (and Tinder would probably take the place of chatrooms).

In the shadow of Amazon ($NASDAQ:AMZN), every business is scrappy, independent bookstore, including the largest bookseller by brick-and-mortar retail locations.

Last week, Barnes & Noble announced another strategic turnaround, this time including the possibility of a sale. The news sent shares up 28 percent by the end of the week, as investors glow from the possibility of a wholesale reinvention of a company that, so far, has not successfully responded to new technology and often offering only mimicry, such as the Nook e-reader in response to the Kindle.

As for the company’s attempts to out-Amazon with its own website, that hasn’t gone well either.

Overall website traffic has decreased year-over-year, as less people are turning to barnesandnoble.com to pick up the latest New York Times Bestseller. This year is, by far, the website's worst year for monthly unique visitors since Thinknum began tracking Barnes & Noble in August 2007.

Meanwhile, employees are hardly invigorated in a working environment that feels like endless descent. Ever fewer of them recommend the company as a workplace, and they are less than sanguine about a company that sacked two CEOs in less than two years.

The bookseller also had recent issues with its former CEO Demos Parenos, whose approval rating completely tanked in 2018 months before he was removed from his post.

Despite the company's overall gloomy outlook, Barnes & Noble Education, a unit of bookseller that was spun off into its own company in 2015, at least shows a somewhat healthy pulse. Bncollege.com website visitation is steady or higher than previous years, which flies in the face of the main website's decrease in traffic and the company's stock decline.

The website's increase in traffic likely due to special relationships the company has with university bookstores... Or the fact that a Barnes & Noble College often is the university bookstore. In a sense, the spin-off is its own all-powerful mini-Amazon lording over students at the beginning of every semester.

Unless, of course, those students go on Amazon to find those prized (and dreaded) required textbooks for a cheaper price.

Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson is a freelance journalist. You can find him on Twitter at @asthompson.

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