Is Barnes and Noble Going the Way of Borders?

In the last 24 hours or so, several of my writer friends have shared an article via Facebook regarding the slow death of Barnes and Noble. The article was penned by Dennis Johnson, founder of MobyLives and co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. To put it simply, Johnson predicts that the chain bookstore is not long for this world and could be out of business within the next 2-3 years. When I first saw the link to the article and read the first paragraph, I thought it was an alarmist piece of journalism, but by the end of the article, it’s clear that Johnson has sound reason and evidence to believe that the demise of Barnes and Noble is likely, and that would have an astounding impact on the literary landscape and readership.

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Johnson opens the article by mentioning the wave of Barnes and Noble stores that have closed since the holiday season, and they’re not only in small communities, but in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle, San Francicso, and other metropolitan eras. Publishers Weekly is cited to highlight that the bookstore had lackluster holiday sales; store sales declined nearly 11 percent, while NOOK sales tumbled 12.6 percent.

A blurb from the Wall Street Journal is cited to illustrate that Barnes and Noble has failed at marketing, especially in regards to its e-reader, the NOOK.

“What concerns us is that as the overall market gravitates toward color tablets, you’d have expected that Barnes & Noble would have been able to maintain its share because it introduced two new color tablets during the quarter,” said Morningstar analyst Peter Wahlstrom. “They aren’t behind on the tablet front in the sense that their devices compare well with others, but they are behind in terms of marketing, awareness and adoption. And that’s critical.”

What’s shocking about Johnson’s article is the point raised that if the 2,000 plus Barnes and Nobles stores close in a few years, that would lead to the demise of roughly half the nation’s bookstores. In blunt words, the writer predicts that will leave the literary landscape and publishing industry totally screwed, and it can even harm small indie bookstores and the sale of e-books because it will make books overall less visible, thus making consumers care about them even less.

Like Johnson stated, the publishing industry better adapt to this quickly, or books as we know them will be all but extinct.  Barnes and Noble should take a cue from indie bookstores and try to engage customers by hosting more readings, book signings, and other events, whatever it takes to get customers into the store. Just imagine a country losing nearly half its bookstores. Talk about killing the publishing industry and  decreasing even more this country’s intelligence level, education, and curiosity.

Amazon Vs. The Bookstores

I came across a bit of news this week that should be of interest to anyone interested in the publishing industry and how Amazon is changing it. Recently, some of the biggest chain bookstores, including Barnes ‘n Noble, Books-a-Million, and Canada’s Indigo Books, have decided they will no longer sell Amazon books. This news, which I first read on AWP’s website/newsletter, came after Amazon announced it had begun its own publishing program, which could present yet another major challenge to bookstores and the struggling publishing industry. The article states that, “Amazon has cut out the traditional system of publishers publishing books and then working with booksellers in order to market them. Amazon, which already created a lot of stress for publishers with its decision to produce Amazon-exclusive e-book titles, now publishes and sells its own books and major publishers and retailers don’t want any part of it.”

The bookstores aren’t alone in their protest over this. The American Booksellers Association has made its subsidiary, IndieCommerce, remove all Amazon titles from its listings. IndieCommerce provides indie bookstores access to the latest titles via an online database. Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor has reported that Amazon plans to open its own bookstores based on the model of the Apple stores.

If Amazon does expand its publishing house and also opens bookstores, this certainly could drive more bookstores and publishers out of businesses.  If we eventually live in a world where Amazon is the main publisher and seller of books, what impact will that have on allowing for a variety of voices in literature? I seriously doubt Amazon would take a chance on a young, experimental writer. Furthermore, bookstores, especially indie ones, provide something Amazon does not-community. Local bookstores are where writers and poets go to do readings and sign books, and local bookstores host other events for all ages, including lectures and workshops. I simply don’t foresee Amazon bookstores being as friendly to local communities as indie bookstores or even Barnes ‘n Noble.