williamallenpepper

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WHAT IF BARNES AND NOBLE CLOSES?

With Nook sales revenue down twelve percent during the holidays, and books sales in the stores down about the same, watchers of the book business are worried (again) about Barnes & Noble’s future. It doesn’t help that many of the stores closed in 2012, a dozen or so just since Thanksgiving.

The chain, which has something like 700 stores nationwide, is, by all accounts, in trouble. Only a year or so after Borders finally succumbed to…well, whatever killed it: greed, not having an e-reader, opening too many stores, the demise of print books. The cause depends on who you ask.

And now it seems to be happening to Barnes & Noble. The company hasn’t announced it’s bankrupt or anything, of course. But publishing industry watchers smell blood on the page…er in the water. And this is troubling. With Borders gone, B&N is about the only national chain left. There are some regional ones and some indies still dot the landscape here and there. Maybe they’d get a boost from B&N getting out of the way. But then, B&N got a boost from Borders closing and now that’s evaporated.

So what would be left with if B&N closes? If you’re lucky enough to have an indie in your town, then maybe you don’t care. But what if you don’t?

Amazon.

As with most things retail, Amazon will presumably come out on top. Again. I can’t sneer too much at Amazon, even with their low prices that undercut everyone and the frequent criticism they get for being ruthless with competitors and with the very people and companies who try to sell books and products through them. I do spend more at online booksellers than I do in brick and mortar stores. It’s just a fact.

The reason is simple. Bookstores charge too much for what you get. If I can get the new Stephen King hardcover at Amazon for $14, what can my local B&N offer me that makes it worth driving there and paying $30? Nothing. Yes, I, and many other people, like the ambience. We like meandering through the shelves of books, inhaling the rich scent of coffee and paper. Maybe even flip through a book in one of those overstuffed chairs. (To be honest, though, the chair thing has never really been for me: feels weird to stretch out and get all comfy in the middle of the mall with strangers and Muzak. I’ll just go home to my own overstuffed chair that’s been molded to my proper butt shape, thank you.)

This is the problem with the modern bookstore: It’s not modern at all. Brick and mortar stores these days are little more than warehouses for books. Expensive warehouses. They can’t beat Amazon because there is no cheaper “shelf” space than online.

I don’t think print books are dead. If B&N, and other stores, want to pull out of the tailspin, they need to offer something I can’t get online. More face time with authors (and they don’t have to be famous ones). Hell, let me meet and talk to some publishers, editors and agents too. Avid readers are interested in the production side too. More workshops for writers. More book clubs. More staged readings and plays right there in the store. More costume parties (and not just when the new Harry Potter is out) and theme events (Nick Hornby night! Edgar Allen Poe Appreciation Day! Whatever.)

You bookstore guys aren’t doing any of this. And that’s why, we avid readers flip through your stock, smile and wave at the checkout clerk, then go sit in our car and order that same book we just looked at from our smartphones for sixty percent less than you were charging.

So the painful reality is, if B&N does fold completely, Nook owners will be dealing with a different vendor (someone surely will pick up the slack), but otherwise for most of us not much will change.

And that’s the problem.

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