Barnes & Noble’s chief digital officer is “meh” on the threat of Amazon

Shake it off.
Shake it off.
Image: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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Following speculation that Amazon would open hundreds of brick-and-mortar stores as a follow-up to its first store in Seattle, the company plans this summer to open a second physical bookstore, this one in San Diego.

Fred Argir, chief digital officer at Barnes & Noble, is unfazed.

At the Digital Book World conference in New York this week, Argir brushed off questions about Amazon’s plans. “My win percentage on predicting what Amazon is going to do is very low,” he said in a Q&A with conference chair Mike Shatzkin. “They’re going to do whatever they want to do.”

Argir’s shrug-off comes a few weeks after Barnes & Noble CEO Ron Boire said the company would open a new prototype store that adds a digital component to the experience. (So far the company hasn’t provided any details about a date or location.)

Argir said he sees Barnes & Noble stores as very different from Amazon’s—a place where you can get coffee and have a “family experience.”

He also acknowledged that Nook, the company’s unprofitable e-reader which has been crushed by the Amazon Kindle, needed to be scaled back. Starting Mar. 15, the UK version of the Nook store will cease operations. Argir said that the company must look toward more profitable endeavors.

That’s good news.

Michael Cader, founder of Publishers Lunch, a popular industry publication, and a conference organizer, told Quartz, “The way Barnes & Noble improves its performance is by losing less money on Nook.”

The Nook has been dragging down the company for years, obscuring profits from the physical stores. Though Barnes & Noble has closed stores—it has 640 retail stores as of Jan. 1, 2016, down from 720 in 2010—Cader doesn’t see it going by the way of Borders, which declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011. Boise said on the earnings call that the company plans to close eight stores this year, rather than the expected 13.

If Amazon does open hundreds of stores–or even thousands as NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway speculated (paywall) at the conference—what’s next for the bookstore is anyone’s guess.