These days, Barnes & Noble stores are “unequivocally book-driven” and that’s a big change for the US’s largest book chain whose 600 stores now offer unique and highly curated content to suit their local communities. Chief executive James Daunt, 59, who left investment banking in 1990 to launch Daunt Books in the UK and then revived the Waterstones chain there, is applying the same independent bookseller’s playbook to Barnes & Noble. Publishers no longer dictate titles for prime display spots for a fee and the company’s corporate staff is much smaller. Sales are rising, and Barnes & Noble will open about 30 new branches this year -- many of them being stores once shut to cut costs. “The absolute joy of this is that [the stores are] better the less you do,” says Daunt.

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