Barnes & Noble has laid off many of its buyers and plans to reconfigure its buying approach in the Waterstones' style, which shifted to a more centralized model last year, Shelf Awareness has learned. Other headquarters staff and "some" store employees have apparently also been let go.
The B&N buyers, many or all of whom have been furloughed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., include such longtime employees as literary fiction buyer Sessalee Hensley, who had been with B&N about 35 years; SF/fantasy and graphics novel buyer James Killen, who had been with B&N 41 years; buyer David Garber, a 25-year veteran; and Lisa Echenthal, a 28-year veteran.
Asked for comment, B&N stated: "It is with great regret that a number of employees in the corporate office have left our employment. As with so many companies, we evaluate our needs in circumstances much changed by the Covid-19 pandemic. We now have almost all of our bookstores reopened and must align our head office requirements to our store priorities. These are wonderful employees whose dedication and service over the years to Barnes & Noble has been exemplary. We thank them sincerely and are working with them to help them through this transition."
Last year, Waterstones managing director James Daunt, who is now also CEO of B&N, told the Bookseller that Waterstones would centralize buying "into two roles." As we reported at the time, "Under the proposed buying changes, 'an initial sub would be agreed earlier in the publication process by a Waterstones' buyer, but a new category manager would then manage the roll-out of the books within the estate,' the Bookseller wrote. 'The category manager would be able to increase the level of stock made available to individual bookstores, but also make sure the merchandising matched the order levels.' Currently, publishers meet with many different buyers at Waterstones, depending on the sectors they publish into, and buying decisions are delayed until all of the buyers meet for a monthly review of these titles.
" 'I am telling publishers this is coming down the tracks. But this will be an evolutionary change, not a Big Bang,' Daunt said. 'We will buy titles in a much more centralized, focused and holistic way.... So there won't be a case anymore of the history buyer not knowing what the biography buyer has bought. But we will no longer be ordering it six weeks ahead but 12-14 weeks ahead, so publishers will have greater certainty earlier.' "