Ever since James Daunt took command of Barnes & Noble, one of his primary objectives has been to give more book ordering responsibility to individual stores, the theory being that local buyers have a much better sense of what will sell in their own stores than New York City-based corporate buyers. That switch has sometimes led to unhappy publishers and authors.

The latest controversy pertains to the ordering of middle grade fiction hardcovers. Since Wednesday, numerous social media posts began reporting that B&N has implemented a new strategy that will limit the number of new hardcover editions of middle grade fiction the store initially stocks to expected bestsellers, and order trade paperbacks for books by all other authors. One of the first to flag the change was author Bethany Baptiste who, on Wednesday night, tweeted a comprehensive thread alerting other authors to the issue. The change is being made, many believe, because Daunt, who also heads the U.K.’s Waterstones bookstore group, has had success with that approach in the U.K., where trade paperback sales are especially important to success.

The change in ordering has also drawn criticism because new hardcover titles from midlist and marginalized authors who have not hit bestseller lists will likely not be ordered in the quantities they have been, so those titles will lose needed exposure on B&N shelves.

Reached by PW, Daunt didn’t comment on the particulars of the middle grade switch, but didn’t deny that changes have been made and said those changes are in keeping with his philosophy of giving power back to local stores. He told PW that returns of middle grade hardcovers had been running has high as 80%, something he attributed to B&N’s abandoning its role to thoughtfully curate its stores. “B&N for many years abrogated this responsibility, filling its stores with anything and everything and sending back what did not sell,” Daunt said. “That this was something well over 20% of sales was somehow excused, and ignored that returns of backlist was low and on frontlist exceptionally high.”

“What we are doing—with middle grade and adult, fiction and nonfiction, alike—is to exercise taste and judgment,” Daunt continued. “This is to buy less but, if it is done with skill, it is to sell more. Far from being just for proven authors, this will be to allow the new that is good to have the space and attention to find an audience.”

Daunt said “the brutal truth is that B&N—and I contend the wider publishing industry—has failed to support new voices and talents adequately for many years,” noting that bestseller lists are dominated year after year by brand-name authors. “Far from abandoning hardcovers, we are determined to sell these with more vigor and more invention,” he said. “There is an irony, perhaps, that to do so we must exercise taste. We must champion the best and not simply pile up everything, irrespective of merit, and be content to sell very little of it.”

The company also shot down a rumor associated with the changes to middle grade fiction hardcover that B&N will only stock one or two hardcovers per publisher. “Every book is reviewed individually, agnostic of publisher or imprint, for the initial laydown,” the statement read. “If a publisher is having a strong month or season, we will bring them in. There is no predetermined amount of new releases for a particular time period, and certainly not a capped amount per publisher.”

The change that has come to middle grade hardcover fiction, Daunt said, is just the latest step in making “B&N behave like a true bookseller and indeed in the manner of the best independent booksellers.” He refuted suggestions that the new policy reflects his U.K. "sensibilities," contending that the change “is just good bookselling, exactly as I see being practiced (and praised, quite rightly) by the best independent bookstores in the U.S. These are amongst the best bookstores in the world, and we are set resolutely on a path to make sure that those of Barnes & Noble are numbered again amongst them.”

This story has been updated.