Barnes & Noble’s new boss is trying to save the chain of traditional and traditional book sales

A year ago, John Radford had little control over the book selection at the Barnes & Noble store he manages at Idaho Falls in Idaho. Executives in New York decided which topics to go with. More than 600 retailer stores were expected to follow that map.

Mr. Radford had to store dozens of James Patterson and John Grisham books, though not so much local demand. Most likely, he will have to return half the goods after a few months.

These days, he just calls the shots.

Led Chief Executive James Dont, Barnes & Noble Inc. Two decades ago it abandoned the strategy of a book-selling behemoth — a consistency designed to build scale economies and make the shopping experience easier. Instead, the company empowers store managers to manage their shelves based on local tastes.

In recent months, Mr. Dante once reduced the number of powerful employees, oversaw the stores of large groups, and laid off nearly half of the company’s New York-based book buyers, with powerful flavor makers deciding which titles to bring to stores. In the process, he severed decades of ties with publishers, who paid to keep their books in stores.

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