- Barnes & Noble this week debuted a mobile app that acts as a social network for book lovers, according to a press release. The Browsery app aims to engage people with the kind of experience they may seek at one of the book retailer's 650 stores, such as community, conversation and peer recommendations.
- On the app, customers can like, comment and ask or answer questions about books posed by other readers. Chief digital officer Fred Argir said the company is urging its booksellers to get involved with the app to share their knowledge about books with a wider audience of readers. Barnes & Noble plans to boost visibility for the app by posting Browsery content on its social channels.
- The app also features an "asked by an author" section, where authors can directly chat with readers and answer questions about their favorite books. Brad Meltzer, author of "The Escape Artist," kicks off the feature for the app's launch week. Browsery is free to download from Apple's App Store or Google Play.
With Browsery, Barnes & Noble is trying to compete against GoodReads with its own book discovery and social media network. The concept makes sense in that it aims to lure an audience of book lovers who have turned to places like Twitter and Reddit to share their enthusiasm for authors, genres and bestsellers and discover new reads. The essence of Browsery is to provide a platform for readers to easily discover new books based on peer recommendations.
However, some readers may resent the retailer's attempt to horn in on online interactions when they can access a similar community on other online platforms where readers control the conversation, not a retailer looking to sell products. Down the road, Barnes & Noble could provide unique incentives to join Browsery that similar platforms like GoodReads couldn't do as easily, such as discounts, exclusive offers and VIP access to in-store events like author signings or book readings.
Barnes & Noble has the distinction of being the first major retail chain to face off against Amazon, which got its start as "the Earth's biggest bookstore." Amazon urged interaction with its website by letting readers submit their own ratings and reviews that rival commentary from professional critics. While Amazon has branched out into more areas of e-commerce, the grocery business and music and video streaming, Barnes & Noble has struggled with its big-box store format and seeks to open smaller, more efficient stores, CEO Demos Parneros said last year.
Barnes & Noble continues to struggle as the retail industry retrenches and department stores that acted as anchors for shopping malls shutter unprofitable stores. Barnes & Noble reported that sales in fiscal Q3 2018, which included the holiday season, fell 5.3% from a year earlier to $1.2 billion. Comparable store sales decreased 5.8% because of lower foot traffic amid the rise of ecommerce and speedy delivery, but did show signs of improvement with a narrower 3.5% decline for the month of January. With the launch of the Browsery, the company may strengthen its connection to core customers who have shifted their reading habits to mobile or digital devices like the Nook or Kindle e-readers.