James Daunt is beginning to look like the saviour of chain bookselling on both sides of the Atlantic. As CEO of Waterstones British publishers have long admired his transformation of the UK chain; now it seems that his approach is working the same magic in the US where, as CEO of the 625-strong Barnes & Noble (B&N) chain, he has achieved sales increases of 5-6% this year, compared to 2019.

He told Publishers Weekly that although the Covid 19 pandemic continued to damage B&N’s café and newsstand figures, books and other core areas like educational games, puzzles, and workbooks, have done well.  He also notes how reading as an activity has proved resilient during the pandemic.

The crucial change that Daunt has introduced in the US is to give local store managers more control over what they stock.  While there will inevitably be some duplication of major titles from store to store, “managers are in charge of the way titles are presented”.  Daunt says the aim is to make sure that stores have necessary quantities of the books that are selling well, and that books that are not performing so well are returned quickly.  He described resupply of titles as a “central focus”.

His seemingly obvious approach has won praise from US publishers.  Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp credited Daunt with “revitalizing” the retailer, while HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray praised Daunt’s revival of the company and applauded his ability to persuade parent company Elliott Advisors to keep investing in the business.

Daunt has closed some underperforming stores and opened six new stores since he took over in early 2020.  In 2022 he hopes to open new stores “in decent numbers” – just the sort of news publishers love to hear.