Well this is sad news. It seems Barnes and Nobel has been struggling as of late and now put themselves up for sale. Considering how much Barnes and Nobel has contributed to the reading industry this really does suck. Yeah a lot of people will harp that Barnes and Nobel killed off more independently owned book stores but that was due to the fact the big retailer had actual selection.
In La Crosse there was a small bookstore I often when to with my mother back when I was young. Yes they could order you almost anything but there were two majors issues that ultimately killed the store. The first problem was their inventory, although good for a small bookstore, was still pretty pitiful. Every book I wanted to read had to be special ordered which meant at least a week until I could start reading it. Their second problem lied in the fact that this was before widespread Internet access and hence there was no efficient way to search for titles. If you wanted to order a book you had to know what the title was and who wrote it. Ultimately this second problem was the biggest because it meant you had very limited ability to discover new books.
Enter Barnes and Nobel, a massive bookstore that stocked everything. The first time I walked into one of these stores I just about jumped up and down for joy. See Barnes and Nobel had something no other bookstore at the time did; an honest to God full sized science fiction section. Barnes and Nobel really did help science fiction titles get more recognition just by the fact that they actually stocked them. This is how I discovered some of the lesser known stuff that I read. For example I would have never heard of the Vampire Earth or The Lost Fleet series if it wasn’t for the fact I stumbled into Barnes and Nobel one night and spend some time browsing through the sci-fi section.
But it wasn’t just science fiction that Barnes and Nobel helped. Pretty much any specialty subject could (and still can be) found in Barnes and Nobel. Do you want a book on programming in some semi-obscure language? If so check the programming section by the other computer books. Yes that’s right they have a section dedicated to computer programming. This was a big benefit to me in the days before having reliable Internet access as it allowed me to learn new languages (back in the day when said programming books came with CDs containing the needed software to start programming). If you wanted a book dealing with astronomy, paleontology, auto service, or any other niche offering chances were high Barnes and Nobel had a section for it.
Of course it seems more people are moving back to the old model of buying books, stores not dedicated to book sales. According to the Slashdot article (which is sourcing the New York Times and thus requires you register) one of the primary killers here are today’s equivalent to the general store; Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, etc. I can’t fathom this because I’ve browsed through all three of those stores’ book sections and they don’t stock shit. If those stores were the only sources I had of quality reading material I’d pretty much have to give up reading.
Of course the other competition for Barnes and Nobel comes from electronic books which they tried to get into in the past but failed (pretty miserably I might add). Now they are trying it a second time around and having better success but in a market populated by some pretty stiff competition (namely the Kindle and now iPad).
I afraid the next owner of Barnes and Nobel isn’t going to be so good as to keep the wide selection of titles and awesome reading environment. Hopefully I’m wrong but I’m certainly not an optimist by nature.