Barnes and Nobel Up for Sale

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.

5 thoughts on “Barnes and Nobel Up for Sale”

  1. When there are no cars, having a high-quality maker of buggy whips in town is really important. Likewise when there’s no e-commerce, having brick-and-mortar stores to buy your books in is also really important.

    In the era of Amazon? Not so much.

    I grew up shopping at Borders, back in the era when there was only one of them, and every employee on the floor had good advice about books. Nowadays, they’ll happily sell you anything in stock (and the stock is still better than any other B&M), but you get the impression most of them don’t actually read. And if you’re not going to get advice from the staff, you might as well save the sales tax and buy from Amazon, where practically anything with an ISBN and more than five copies known to still exist in the world appears to be available for purchase.

    If Borders also went out of business, it might prompt some nostalgic regret…but in truth, it wouldn’t change my life at all. The superstore for bibliomaniacs that I’d miss is already gone.

    1. Yeah that’s certainly another big thing, most employees at bookstores don’t actually know much about books. That was one benefit about independently owned books stores, the people there generally had a love of literature. If you asked them for an opinion about a book that was “similar to author X” they could generally recommend a title (so long as it was in their field of interest of course). They could also bring up their reason for carrying certain authors which would give you an indication on the quality of the book.

      Barnes and Nobel as well as Borders don’t really have this option as most of the employees there are working the job because it’s money and money is good. There is nothing wrong with that justification for taking a job but it doesn’t lend itself well to getting top notch recommendations. Really the only place left to get recommendations from physical people (as opposed to people on the Internet whom I’ve found to be more reliable in their recommendations) is the local library. A person who went into library science generally has an honest to God love for books yet and can make some great recommendations.

      1. You have a valid point, although not all stores were the same. I worked at B&N while in college (it at least *felt* like an intellectual pursuit) and many of my co-workers had undergraduate degrees in literature and really loved books. We had over 100,000 titles, and after a while I got to know them better than I care to admit. I remember a woman asking if we had any books on outhouses, and I was able to recommend “Wisconsin’s Vanishing Outhouse” without consulting the computer; she looked at me like I was from Mars.

        btw, the idea that there’s another technology wonk named Christopher Burg living in the midwest is, frankly, a little freaky…I feel like I’m replying to myself.

  2. Yeah Target and Walmart aren’t Barnes & Noble’s problem it is definitely Amazon. With Amazon prime I have a new book in 2 days. So at a certain point laziness sets in, not to mention Amazon tends to have better prices and is Tax free. So I don’t have to drive 15 minutes to the store to look, I just order off the internet and it will be at my house 2 days later.

    What I will miss about Barnes & Nobel if they actually go away is their Magazine rack. They have almost every Magazine under the sun. When I just need 1 issue of a Magazine I go there and can find it.

    1. Yeah their magazine selection is pretty amazing. If I ever want a subscription to some little known specialty magazine chances are Barnes and Nobel have it in their rack.

      But yeah if I want a physical book chances are I’ll order it on Amazon since their selection far outreaches pretty much everybody else. Also I really like dealing with Amazon in general.

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