“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” So said Mark Twain in 1897, and I’m wondering if Barnes & Noble might be saying the same thing right about now.
Over the last week, an article by Michael Levin has been making the rounds, causing fear and trembling among certain groups of authors and publishing folks. Syndicated on news websites all over the U.S., Levin’s article predicts that Barnes & Noble may close all the rest of their stores by the end of the year. It proposes five reasons for B&N’s demise, and goes on to lament the awful tragedy this would be. (You can read a version of the article HERE.)
I just want to add my two cents to the pot:
1. We’ve known for a long time that B&N’s position was—and is—precarious. This is not news. (Forecasting “B&N closing by the end of the year” is, however, a great way to get lots of clicks and shares.)
2. While it could happen, we haven’t seen any evidence that B&N will be dead before 2015. This business is always rampant with rumors, and what good does it do? I prefer to ignore attention-seeking prognostications and wait for the real news.
Now, let’s say Mr. Levin’s prediction is correct. What then?
I daresay the world won’t end. Things will change for publishers and readers and everyone in between—but things have already been changing and we ought to be used to it by now. It’s not as if publishers are unaware that this could happen. And it’s not as if readers are clinging to B&N as their last and only hope for access to books.
Let’s take a few of the statements in this article and expose them to the light.
“Literary agent David Vigliano says that the disappearance of bookstores, and the move to buying books on Amazon, represents the death of browsing.”
No offense to either Mr. Levin or Mr. Vigliano, but this is categorically untrue. Millions of readers are browsing just fine, thank you very much, online and in (gasp) libraries. Why do you think B&N is having so much trouble? Not just because of showrooming (people browsing in the store, then buying online.) But because many, many readers have already made the switch to online browsing and are having no trouble finding the reading material they want.
“Serendipity – the sweet surprise of happening upon an unexpected book – is an experience that can happen only in a bookstore.”
This feels to me like the ranting of Luddites who can’t get used to this thing called the Internet. They can’t believe that it actually WORKS. Again, this statement is so untrue as to be almost ridiculous. Millions of readers are experiencing “serendipitous” sweet surprises much more often nowadays via the Internet than they ever could from walking into a bookstore.
“Yes, Amazon’s algorithms can point you to books you may like, but there’s no substitute for wandering the aisles of a bookstore, looking into a section you might never have visited before, and finding a new author or subject you had never considered.”
Oh, brother. I regularly find new authors and subjects I’d never considered—by tuning in to NPR and the Wall Street Journal, by following smart bloggers, by checking Facebook every now and then, by belonging to a book group, by browsing on Goodreads, and by having actual conversations with actual people. I have probably been in B&N five times in the last five years—and I read as many books as almost anyone I know.
“Barnes & Noble killed privately owned bookstores, and Amazon and technology are killing B&N. It’s downright Darwinian.”
It took a lot more than B&N to drive many privately-owned bookstores out of business—it was the advent of digital books, and it was all the big stores (Borders, Walmart, Costco, etc), and it was Amazon. But think about it. If B&N folds, it might be exactly what we need to bring back the privately-owned local bookstore that knows how to serve its own community.
Could B&N close this year? Sure. Would it be a tragedy of epic proportions? No, except for the fact that many would lose their jobs because of it. My heart goes out to those people.
Publishers (and writers, and agents, and everyone else in the book food chain) will figure out how to rally. We’ve been adjusting to massive changes for half a decade already, and there’s more to come. I understand it’s difficult to deal with uncertainty (you have no idea how well I understand this). But I’m so over the drama, and the fear, and the hand-wringing.
Let’s keep looking ahead at the possible changes in our industry, and asking ourselves: What’s good about this change? How does it bring us into the future? What do I need to do to adjust to this change? Does it offer any opportunity for me?
I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Barnes & Noble closing? Agent @RachelleGardner says: Everybody get a grip. Click to Tweet.
Could B&N close this year? Sure. A tragedy of epic proportions? No, says agent @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.
“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Mark Twain–and Barnes & Noble? Click to Tweet.
Image credit: twindesign / 123RF Stock Photo
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