In an interview conducted by Hearst Magazines President Cathleen Black, Mr. Riggio revealed that the one product he would love to add more of to his stores are magazines. That's because he's found one of the keys to Barnes & Noble's growth is offering the widest possible selection on as many topics as possible.
"Our consumers are interested in news, fashion, entertainment, crafts. What's exciting to me is to look at customers and see someone with a stack of books, a how-to magazine, a magazine on Buddhism, one on crafts. This is the most eclectic, hungry group of consumers; we call them aspirants," he said. "They spend on average an hour per visit. This is a captive audience. We have to work together to sell more magazines to them, find more innovative ways to display them. Ten percent of our sales in Barnes & Noble come from magazines. We can get that up. We can sell more."
Of the top-selling magazines at Barnes & Noble -- which include People, Us Weekly, Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, The Economist, Men's Health, O, the Oprah Magazine and The Harvard Business Review -- not one accounts for more than 1% of sales. It's the breadth of magazines sold that contribute to the 10% of sales.
Mr. Riggio related how his stores are visited by 8 million to 10 million customers a year, 65% of which are female. "We see them as the most affluent, most-educated consumer in America. The Economist is our No. 2 best-selling magazine. This is an audience that buys wide and deep across a lot of different categories," he said. "The American population is aging, too, which is good news for us. Because 35- to 60-year-olds are the biggest buyers of books and magazines."
He's also bullish about the future, citing the tremendous growth in sales of teen titles. "They are reading, they're just doing it while they're online and talking on cellphones and playing video games, all at the same time," said Mr. Riggio.
In response to a question about e-books, such as the Sony Reader, he joked that electronic readers are like Halley's comet, "coming around every so often before disappearing again. If a book were invented today, it would be considered the perfect technology. It's easy to use, it doesn't need batteries, it lasts forever. Books and magazines have value as physical objects, and we've found that to be true because we've increased demand in markets that we serve."
That's not to say Barnes & Noble has ignored the potential of digital media. Customers to its website on average purchase twice as much as those who visit the stores. But those who visit both the store and the website are more likely to purchase more than a customer who only visits one channel.
An attempt to sell magazine subscriptions on the website a few years ago did not work, but Mr. Riggio told the publishing crowd, "That's something we probably need to revisit soon."