Barnes & Noble Changes Policy on Distribution of Free Papers

Vestibules will be cleared to promote company's products.

Barnes & Noble corporate officials have decided to clear free papers and flyers from the vestibules of their bookstores by July 1, in order to use the space for store promotions.

“We are not banning free publications,” said B&N spokeswoman Debra Williams. “What we are doing is changing the vestibules, so they can be used for Barnes & Noble merchandise The stores will continue to stock a limited number of free papers.”

Williams added that the store managers are responsible for determining what publications will be invited inside.

About half of the 20 AAN members who responded to inquiries said they hadn’t been notified by B&N of any changes in the company’s distribution policy. Many others said that they have been told that their papers will be moved inside the store or that other arrangements would be made that would have a minimal effect on circulation. Only two AAN members said they have been banned from the stores altogether.

According to Publisher Tom Vogel, Icon was asked by the manager of the B&N in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to continue distributing its copies inside the store near the magazine racks. Vogel said he sees the change as a “double-edged sword.”

“We’ve lost the visibility (and room to drop in large volume) by being moved inside, but B&N has more or less ‘legitimized’ us by placing us with the [New York] Times and the Wall Street Journal,” Vogel said.

Vogel credits the store manager for demonstrating “personal discretion in their choice to keep us.” Others are still waiting to hear from their local B&N managers.

“We haven’t gotten a letter or notice,” said Salt Lake City Weekly Publisher John Saltas. “However, B&N recently had us construct a special rack to house our papers in their Salt Lake City store … from which we move around 800 papers a week. We’d certainly hate to lose that.”

Alan Leveritt, publisher of Arkansas Times, said “Yikes! No, we’ve heard nothing, but we [distribute] 600 copies a week [in B&N] in a place as small as Little Rock.”

A few publishers expressed mild disappointment about the change in policy. Austin Chronicle Publisher Nick Barbaro said that while his paper won’t be significantly impacted, he still hates to see the vestibules cleared.

“I think it’s really unfortunate for the communities which B&N serves, because it removes a vibrant little community information center from the front of their stores,” Barbaro stated. “It’s one less place where you can see a wide range of fanzines, pamphlets, class schedules, grassroots publications … Too bad.”

New York Press circulation manager John Baxter said B&N stores have been clearing his paper from its vestibules since last year. In many cases, the Press has been banned completely from the stores, Baxter said.

When B&N managers in New York are forced to decide which local alternative weekly they should continue to distribute, Village Voice is usually the paper they select, Baxter said. Phone calls placed to four of the 13 New York City area B&N stores revealed that managers select the free publications that they believe are the most popular. One of the managers noted that his store receives more than a dozen free publications every week, and he is forced to limit the number of papers in the store because of overcrowding.

Baxter said New York Press formerly distributed about 2,000 copies from the B&N vestibules from which it has been removed. Most AAN papers — even those that will be allowed to move inside the stores — will be forced to cut back on the number of copies they distribute through B&N.

Jeff Fobes, publisher of Mountain Xpress, suggested each AAN paper run a short article about the changes.

“Consider that the local booksellers of the country are under siege by the Goliath chains,” stated Fobes, who had not yet learned what his local Barnes & Noble will do. “I know that, in my market, readers and local booksellers would find this story fascinating, and many readers would be upset by B&N’s policy.”

B&N’s mega-chain rival, Borders, does not have a uniform policy regarding vestibule usage, according to a company spokeswoman. She said the company allows its managers to decide what can be displayed in the store’s entryway.