A “very solid” holiday season capped another good sales year for Barnes & Noble, CEO James Daunt told PW. “A good year on top of a prior good year is particularly nice to have,” Daunt said.

In good news for publishers, Daunt said book sales were particularly strong for the chain, led by a handful of big books, among them Spare by Prince Harry, James McBride’s Heaven and Earth, David Grann’s The Wager, and Rebecca Yarros’s two novels, Iron Flame and Fourth Wing. An improved supply chain that allowed B&N to keep titles in stock also aided holiday sales, Daunt said.

In addition to higher book sales, B&N received a boost from a couple of areas of the store where growth had been sluggish—the café business, which benefited from more customer traffic, and newsstand sales (“thank you Taylor Swift,” Daunt said). However, after a strong year for gift sales in 2022 the format did “less well” in 2023, Daunt said, partially due to giving space that had been reserved for gifts to books. Sales in the toys and games department “trod water,” he said

Last year also saw B&N continue to remake its store footprint, opening about 30 new stores, closing some underperforming outlets, and reconfiguring others. B&N ended 2023 with 609 outlets, about 10 more than it had a year ago, and Daunt has set a goal of opening 50 new stores in 2024, a number that would represent the highest number of store openings in 15 years, according to Daunt. “We are entering a period of significant growth,” Daunt said, adding that in addition to opening new outlets, B&N is also investing in its IT and distribution operations.

Daunt’ expansion plans reflect his confidence in the prospects for 2024. He said the spring makeover of B&N’s membership program has more than doubled the number of customers enrolled, allowing B&N to do more effective promotions for individual titles. And he expressed confidence that the upcoming publishing list will fill the “Spare-sized hole” looming for this year, noting that he was particularly high on books by Sarah J. Maas, including the soon-to-be released House of Flame and Shadow, the newest volume in Maas’s Crescent City series. Pointing to the strong performances for books by Liz Cheney and Cassidy Davidson in 2023, Daunt said it is also possible the presidential election may reignite sales of political books this year.

Along with rising sales have come higher costs, Daunt acknowledged. Employees at five B&N stores have voted to unionize and talks are underway with each to reach new contracts, he said. Pointing to the fact that employees at independent bookstores are also unionizing, Daunt sounded like unions have become a fact of life for bookstores, and said that investing in career structures, and the "training and development" associated with those programs, “is a key priority.”