A story about Barnes & Noble and similar large book store chains feeling the heat due to lagging sales and the increased popularity of online competitors such as Amazon.com and e-book sales caught my attention a few days ago.
Six years ago while I was attending a writer’s conference luncheon, an industry expert announced to us that smaller chains and independent bookstores were in danger of extinction, being replaced by the mega-bookstores. “If you can’t imagine your book finding a place on the shelf in Barnes & Noble, you haven’t got a chance for success in this business,” she announced to a room full of hundreds of aspiring and published authors.
For more than a decade the publishing industry has been changing dramatically, printing fewer titles, tightening markets, taking fewer chances on new concepts or unknown authors. We expected all those changes with the merging of many of the largest publishers into even larger media groups. I couldn’t imagine e-books replacing printed books then, or ever people preferring to browse websites for books over browsing through a bookstore.
Barnes & Noble and similar large bookstore chains that I once disdained for their influence in publishing industry are now sort of a guilty pleasure of mine.
These companies manage to take a store the size of a department store, attach a café and some comfy nooks (hey, look, that’s the name of THEIR e-book reader!) with big upholstered chairs, and give the store the feel of a library—a place you can escape to and explore the wonderful world of books.
They even host writers’ groups, special events, book signings, and preschool story hours in these establishments, almost like a neighborhood library. And in the world of electronic books, none of those perks are necessary. But that doesn’t mean some of us don’t still want them.
Barnes & Noble was actually smart to release the Nook, their version of a digital reader. In a way they have one foot in the emerging market that’s supposedly killing them and one foot in the past—just in case the speculators are wrong.