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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Barnes and Noble's used booksellers

Many people have questioned how much Barnes and Noble's new program for working with 3rd party booksellers at bn.com will mean? Will the "by invitation" roll out occurring right now lead to bigger things or simply another weak attempt from the site to improve its gross sales?

The scale of the "invitation only" initiative will not have enough impact on the website or the online bookselling market to mean much of anything at the end of the day. Online bookselling has worked because of the its absolutely competitive nature. Limiting that competition will open few doors for the site - and they know it. No matter which reason you take for the change (turn around slumping website numbers, diversify 3rd party sources, increase selection, etc) a small scale change will not result in achieving objectives. One has to assume that the current roll out is meant as a true pilot program. This will help the staff work out kinks, review the cost/benefit of used book sales, review cannibalization numbers relative to new books, assess additional staff needs, etc.

While they may be late in coming to this conclusion, the company (and its shareholders) realize that turning around their online presence is a crucial element to its long term goals. Taking into account the success of Amazon, eBay/Half, and Alibris, dedicating itself to a 3rd party marketplace is really a no brainer. We've already seen how Amazon has successfully done so without cannibalizing a significant amount of their new book sales. In fact, while some buyers chose used books over new copies, the increase in traffic from customers interested in a used book option, helped push their new book sales to new heights.

Bottom line is that while you may not be invited into the program today, they is good hope for the future.