Barnes & Noble is overhauling its membership program and cutting the Educator program
Barnes & Noble (B&N), which has been working under new leadership to reposition itself as an independent bookstore in recent years, is making changes to its membership programs. The former program, which cost $25 a year, gave members 40% off hardback bestsellers, 10% off all in-store purchases, free online shipping, and a few bonus perks throughout the year.
Now the last remaining major bookstore chain is creating two new levels of programming. The first, B&N Premium Membership, costs $40. B&N Premium Membership includes 10% off almost everything online and in stores, a free size upgrade on cafe drinks, a free annual shopping bag (under $19.99), free online shipping and a new stamping program. One stamp is earned for every $10 spent, and 10 stamps result in a $5 reward. This $5 reward only comes after $100 has been spent.
This 60% price increase for the paid rewards program no longer offers a 40% discount on hardcover bestsellers.
The second membership, Barnes & Noble Rewards, is free. Those who register are enrolled in the stamp program, where one stamp is earned for every $10 spent and 10 stamps result in a $5 reward. The program offers no additional benefits, and B&N e-books and digital products are not included in the rewards program at either tier.
As B&N CEO James Daunt told The Wall Street Journal, the company sees this as an opportunity to get to know its customers; Before the development of the free program, customer data was limited. Daunt believes nearly three-quarters of current members will switch to the newly created $40 membership, which he compares to services like Walmart+ and Amazon Prime. Prime also increased the price from $119 to $139 this year.
These changes follow the bookseller’s other big changes to what it sells in stores. As Jenn Northington explains, pressure to sell the hottest titles, a move away from pay-for-placement desktop models, smaller stores and a drop in purchases by the retail giant have led many to note that there are fewer hardcovers in stores . This hit to discovery means there are fewer books to be found in stores and that the standard of “verified sales” of land titles in stores will create further challenging conditions for middle-class and marginalized authors. In fact, Daunt has put on record that stores in 8,000-square-foot facilities can do just as much for sales as they could in previous 25,000-square-foot facilities — but of course, that blows the findability over the best-sellers up in the air.
Businesses are shrinking, member benefits are shrinking, and the cost of books and memberships continues to rise.
While the changes to these new membership programs have been making the rounds, another just-announced change to B&N services hasn’t received the same attention. The company announced via email last week that it was also ending its Educator Benefits program.
B&N’s Educator program offers free discounts to teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in public, private, church or home schools. Both in-store and online, program participants could receive 20% off hardcover and paperback books, toys and educational games; It also included regular 25% discount offers on days honoring educators.
Those who signed up for the program received an email last week that it was being discontinued, but were encouraged to take advantage of the new B&N Premium Membership. Educators were offered a free year to start, but the $40 annual fee would apply upon renewal.
Unfortunately, the perks for the new premium membership do not match the previous perks for those in the Educator program. The discount is far less on each item while the annual cost is incurred. Educators who take advantage of the free enrollment offer lose their current enrollment in the program, which means they immediately lose the better Educator Program offer in return.
At a time when spending on books is falling and budgets for educators and general consumers are shrinking, Daunt’s belief in a 75% conversion rate for the new program makes little sense, especially one that offers fewer benefits than that original program. Additionally, the Educator program is being phased out at a time of book bans and censorship and rising book costs — some YA hardcovers are $25 each this year, which even with the 10% discount offered as part of the program doesn’t translate to the previous price point from $19.99 – just shows that the importance is not on literacy and education but on the bottom line. Kicking educators when they are already down is far from helping them.
Reading is becoming a luxury pastime, and companies like Barnes & Noble are complicit in making it inaccessible.