Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2010 Issue

Barnes & Noble Reaches Out to Children

Bntoys

Barnes & Nobles toy and game area at their Bronx, New York, store.


By Michael Stillman

Barnes & Noble recently announced another new idea for its stores as the nation's number one bricks and mortar book retailer struggles to re-establish relevance in a changing world, not to mention fending off a corporate takeover by dissident shareholders and fighting for survival itself. We don't know what the ultimate outcome will be for the retailer that struggles to keep its stock price at a third of its high of a few years ago, but we give them an "A" for effort. Barnes & Noble is not going down without a fight, and just as they reinvigorated bookselling in an earlier decade with coffee and pastry, they may yet do it again with socialization and learning.

Just a couple of months ago, Barnes & Noble announced that they would be setting up "e-reading boutiques," featuring its Nook electronic readers, in their stores. These would allow customers to become more familiar with electronic books and readers and, hopefully, encourage them to buy Nooks and e-books from them. We think it's a clever idea - taking advantage of the one thing Barnes & Noble has that bookselling and electronic leader Amazon lacks - a local, physical presence. Personal, hands-on use of and help with electronic devices is a powerful way to connect to customers. Now, Barnes & Noble is adding one more chance to connect, this time with children in particular.

Barnes & Noble is testing what it calls "ultimate playrooms" in five of its stores, two in Connecticut, two in New Jersey, one in New York. These are 3,000 square foot areas designed for play, interactive learning, and, naturally, reading. The idea is to engage children in activities that are both fun and intellectual. It's the bookstore equivalent to McDonald's Playland, perhaps a bit higher on the intellectual to physical ratio than the latter, but the same basic idea. Make the bookstore more fun for children, and you may make customers both of them and their parents. Not a bad idea, and one that online retailers like Amazon will be hard-pressed to follow.

These playrooms will feature products from partners such as Lego. There will also be book-related items such as products featuring Curious George and Thomas the Tank Engine. There will be games and toys, and, naturally enough, Nooks for the youngsters to try. While these large play areas are only being tested in five stores, many others will have smaller areas devoted to children's products.

Along with books, coffee, and electronic readers, Barnes & Noble will also be selling toys and games. Here we again see some clever marketing strategies by the leading physical bookstore. Rather than all kinds of toys, like a Wal-Mart or Toys R Us, Barnes & Noble will be sticking with educational-type toys. As Jaime Carey, Chief Merchandising Officer for Barnes & Noble, cleverly stated, "Busy parents and gift-givers don't have to wade through aisles of cheap, faddish toys; Barnes & Noble has already selected the best of the best, hand-picking and highlighting exceptional and engaging learning toys and games." So, if you are a parent looking for something to educate and stimulate your child, instead of momentarily impress them with something that breaks next week, Barnes & Noble is the place to go. That's a logical connection for a store that primarily sells another intellectual item - books. To us, this looks like some smart positioning by B&N, one that just may help to bring them back in a world very changed from their 1990s heyday, pre-Amazon, pre-electronic readers. If successful, the combination of fun and books may also stimulate more reading among the young. If so, this will not only be good for Barnes & Noble, but for society as well. Let's hope.

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