The Slow Goodbye of Barnes and Noble

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I had a really interesting experience today. 

I had some time to kill in between court appearances for some cases I was handling and there was a Barnes and Noble nearby. Liking the written word as I do, I thought I'd pop in. I haven't been there in several years so I thought why not. I could browse the poetry sections, check out Anne Rice's new books, and if there's any new thrillers out that look interesting that I could later buy on my Kindle. 

I walk in, and I'm awestruck. 

About 40% of the store is children's toys. Another 20% are children's books. Considering that 10% of the space is the cafe, that leaves less than a third of the store for actual books. 

In the front of the store, the first thing you see and the last thing you see as you walk out, is the Nook display with promos on ebooks. To the left are cash registers with a clerk standing behind them, I kid you not, reading an ebook on a Nook. 

I ambulate around the store and look at the shelves. Only the biggest and most famous authors in any genre remain on the shelves. There simply isn't enough room for anyone else. I walk to the Westerns and a thick layer of dust is on most of the books. I flip through a few of the pages of a short story collection and the book, kind of, stinks a little bit. Not like mold or anything; just a stale smell like it's been sitting in a warehouse for the past five years. 

So I head up to the clerk and the two of them are sitting there literally trying to find stuff to do. I think there were perhaps six people in the entire store and four of them were in the cafe sipping drinks. I ask her to see if they have one of my favorite books, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and she flips through her computer. They don't have it, but they can order for it. It will take five days to get here. I passed. 

The only reason I asked at all is because the publisher of that book won't allow it be published as an ebook. And then I'd have to wait five days? I'm used to Kindle where I read what I want when I want. It used to be nothing to wait that long for a book you wanted to read, but now it seems as outdated as the horse and buggy. 

I realized something just then: Barnes and Noble is an antiquated business. Like typewriter stores and VCR repair shops (and yes, they did have those in California and parts of New York in the 80's. Not sure about the rest of the country). 

The reason they're antiquated is they, and the Big 5 publishers, are trying to push an ancient technology on us: paper books. If you're one of those that like paper instead of ebooks, I would dare say you just haven't given ebooks a shot. Objectively, they are better in every respect. The environmental impact of paper books alone is reason enough to switch to electronic. Not to mention built in backlights, dictionary, highlighting, voice, and font and color control. 

The publishers and Barnes and Noble refuse to adapt to the new environment. They treated authors terribly for so long, and milked the public for everything we were worth for so long, it's like they're addicted to crack. They don't want to give it up. And so that's why publisher's ebooks are sometimes more expensive than the paperbacks, and even the hardbacks: they want to deter this whole ebook thing. 

The thing is, the new technology has already taken over. Amazon announced in 2011 that they were selling more ebooks than print books, and now, it's not even close. 

Ebooks are the future. And they allow the writer to reach the reader and the reader to get great deals and find books they couldn't before. It's a win-win for everyone, except the drug dealers selling us overpriced paper. 

When Barnes and Noble goes out of business, and it certainly will with news like this, announcing that their stock dropped 17% and that they're thinking of starting a new company to handle the Nook, it will be a great day for book enthusiasts. 

Why?

Easy. First, those big publishers will realize they can't charge the same for an ebook as for hardback and the ebook prices should fall. 

Second, all those little mom and pop bookstores they have all over Europe might pop up here in the U.S. without the major chains to gobble them up. Print books can then be a little niche, like vinyl. 

All in all, the future is looking bright for writers and readers. So instead of mourning their loss, we should all say our farewells to Barnes and Noble, thank them for the years they helped us read, and wish them well in that long goodnight. 
By Victor Methos

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3 comments:

  1. Great article, Victor.

    I met with a friend for three months at a Starbucks inside a Barnes and Noble while we built out websites just before the Nook came out.

    The cafe was booming and the Barnes and Noble was empty. The last B&N I walked into was in the process of shutting down.

    The world is transforming around us and it's exciting.

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  2. Wonderful article, as always, Victor. I have to admit I like printed books - I like everything about them, turning the pages, the look of them on shelves, the colour of the covers and printed books have been part of my life for decades, since I was four. I tend to buy them secondhand nowadays, the same as DVDs. But I also have Kindle too. I'm kind of in the twilight zone, teetering on the technological fence and no doubt about to fall over! How could I resist a device the size of a slim book that can pack in thousands of wonderful stories? I also think it wonderful how writers can self-publish so easily now via websites like Amazon and sidestep the 'experts'. With thousands of novels waiting to be read the only problem is that I shall have to live to 100 to get through them all.

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  3. I am so glad I came across this on Goodreads. I took an Intro to Business class this semester, and decided that my semester project would be on B&N, since I worked for them for about three years. It was amazing how everything had changed. (Amazon recently acquired Goodreads, so I think that is going to be great for authors, since that is a great site. ) Publishers do need to accept what's happening. I had to wait four months to buy an e-book, because the publisher didn't want to tarnish the book's legacy and "split the vote" (since e-book sales are not added NYT bestseller lists). I have been a lover of books my whole life, and thought I would never get an e-reader, but, as soon as I saw one I fell in love. Superhero just popped up on my Amazon e-mail recommendations, so I think I will check it out (and add it to my Book List that is hundreds of books long, sigh). I promise that when I get my credits settlement from that huge lawsuit against the publishers, I will use it to buy one of your books. Thanks again

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