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Reading The Room: A Conversation With James Daunt

(Image courtesy of The Times. Ben Barker took this image for the Sunday Times Magazine.The image was found on

When I was a junior in high school, I would go to Barnes& Noble to learn how to write. Under the watchful eyes of the literary giants and writing geniuses, I sat in a wooden chair and learned about rhetorical devices. Barnes& Noble evolved from a brick-and-mortar store to the epicenter of learning. On any given weekend, students, tutors, parents, and teachers would converge to discuss science, the arts, language, and culture.

(Image courtesy of Behance. Gary Kelly created this illustration. For more information, please visit

Since 1886, Barnes&Noble has established itself as America's largest bookseller. But how can the brick-and-mortar bookstore stay relevant in today's marketplace? Additionally, how can bookstores reflect societal values and changes? James Daunt, CEO of Barnes&Noble, Managing Director of Waterstones, and Founder of Daunt Books, navigates the ever-changing commercial booksellers' waters to help companies find a clear path toward customer engagement and retention. I had the chance to speak with him to learn more about his career and Barnes&Noble.

(Image courtesy of Pour M Le Magazine Du Monde. Conor O'Leary took this image. The image depicts James Daunt.)

1. Why should someone go to a bookstore?

The first and foremost reason is to find books that pique one's interest. When a person enters a bookstore, they know it's a comfortable place. A person does not need to buy anything when perusing a bookstore. The bookstore is unlike many forms of retail as it also serves as a public space. But of all, a bookstore is an asset to any community, as people use the bookstore to find both solace from the outside world and a place to form friendships.

(Image courtesy of me.)

2. How do bookstores promote literacy?

In this respect, lending libraries contribute more to literacy than bookstores. Yet, I believe bookstores are places where everybody can find a book of interest regardless of age. Bookstores set the stage for intellectual engagement for all who visit. When children read, they develop a positive habit that will educate, entertain and expand their minds.

(Image courtesy of me.)

3. How has social media impacted your work?

Many people who work in bookstores are quite young. Our booksellers are very connected to TikTok's book content, also known as Booktok. Consequently, at the granular store level, the book-selling teams can respond to different perspectives to create meaningful community engagement. Social media is an added benefit to making customer connections.

(Image courtesy of WHNT. The image depicts A “BookTok” display at Barnes & Noble in Huntsville, Alabama. For more information about this image, please go to

4. How do you incorporate your mission and vision into the various bookstores you lead?

Our philosophy is to encourage each store under our umbrella to do what is right for its community. When people come into our stores, we want to provide them friendly and active service. Different stores accomplish this feat in a variety of ways. A big college bookstore will have different interests than one in a more rural area. At the heart of what we do, we the enjoyment of reading. This ethos is at the core of our decision-making process at every level.

(Image courtesy of me.)

5. What is the future of bookstores?

The future is creating great bookstores by listening to customer interest and empowering booksellers.

(Logo courtesy of Barnes and Noble.)


Me on my first day of graduate school

Rachel Huss

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