OMG! What if B&N Closes?

Man freaking out“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:
 

Everybody, get a grip.

 
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.

Comment below, or by clicking: HERE.

 

Tweetables

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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  • Guest

    Sure, we can buy books elsewhere. Sure, the Internet is the wave of the future and those who don’t use it are Luddites. But I have many fond memories of browsing the shelves of B&N or relaxing in their overstuffed chairs to peruse a magazine with a Chai Latte in hand. Barnes & Noble isn’t just a place to buy books; it’s an outing. It’s where you go to find magazines and literary journals you never even knew existed until discovering them them on B&N’s shelves. It’s where you go to meet friends or guys with a degree of substance. It’s a getaway on a random Saturday night when you don’t have a date or have had a tiff with your hubby or significant other. Yes, I have a Kindle, not a Nook. I use it constantly; and buy enough books online to single-handedly keep the evil Amazon Empire alive for decades. But I, for one, love B&N and would very much miss it if it died.

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Yes, there’s a degree of sadness. I feel that, and I’ve missed Borders since it’s been gone. But there are simply not enough of us visiting B&N and BUYING books. Personally, I finally realized that what I missed about Borders was that it was a pleasant place to hang out, drink coffee, and read or chat with friends while surrounded by books, my favorite things. But for all the time I spent there, I sure didn’t buy many books. So I sort of take responsibility for my part in the decline of big-box bookstores. I’m sad. But I’ll get over it.

  • Bret Schulte

    It would be sad if true. It was always easier and more fun to find a little know treasure in a bookstore rather than dig down to page 50 or so on Amazon.

    But maybe with more bookstores gone and the big box stores only carrying the same small selection those page 50 books will get more love.

  • Lorraine Devon Wilke

    I totally agree with your perspective, Rachell, on every count. Truth is, I haven’t bought a book in a bookstore in a long time. In fact, the last two times I went into B & N, the service was so appalling, people were left standing in line for 15 minutes just to buy a greeting card, bad service excused by the one cashier they had as “we can’t afford to hire more people.” Chicken or egg?

    Like you, I’ve found all the same elements of browsing, unexpected discovery, conversation, and the sharing of titles and reviews online, in a whole host of places… yes, including – and especially – Amazon. I can be on the phone discussing a book with someone and in 10 seconds have it on my Kindle. Magic.

    I don’t need a bookstore to drink coffee or see people. I can go to a coffee shop, a mall, even walk down my street for that kind of socializing. When bookstores end up charging exorbitant prices for books I can get for half the price (or less!) online AND provide inept service as a bonus, they have already lost their viability as a competitive business.

    There is a place for small bookstores and hopefully the demise of B & N will create the necessary vacuum to allow them room to once again flourish. But losing B & N is a non-issue in my book; in fact, for many of us they’re gone already.

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Good point Lorraine – I’ve been treating B&N as if they were gone already.

  • http://www.erniezelinski.com/Bio-and-Contact.html Ernie Zelinski

    I would be sad to see Barnes and Nobles go. As with the Borders chain folding, I hope that Barnes and Nobles doesn’t end up not paying publishers and book distributors for a lot of its inventory.

    Still, I agree with everything you said.

    As an author, I will still do well.

    And as a reader, I am sure I will find new great books, both in print and in ebook editions.

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Yep – the piece I didn’t mention in the post is that I’d be sad to see B&N go. But I keep reminding myself that business doesn’t run on sentiment. If we wanted to save Barnes & Noble, we should have all been buying a lot more books there.

  • R. L. Copple

    I’m in full agreement. I doubt B&N will close this year. Who knows, they may have many more years in them if they played it smart. But even if they do, it is not the death of books, browsing, serendipity, or bookstores in general. There’s been an increase of indie bookstores since Borders closed. I’m sure that would only accelerate if B&N shut down.

    • Rachelle Gardner

      I agree – B&N could last many more years. Maybe they could work with publishers and find a business model that actually works. But if that doesn’t happen, somehow we will all keep reading.

  • http://www.hopy1.com hopy

    What a terrible thing to B & N bookstore collapse very much affected private grave, and it will not stick good results for many people. ftooif hope that the worst will not happen, oh my favorite Amazon.

  • Denise Willson

    Business evolves. Period. Think of all the industries that have changed over the decades, most leaving the leading companies to diversify or die. My husband has been a pro trader (stocks) for 20 years. Right now the stock market is changing and most of his colleagues (who were top of their game by the way) are going extinct.
    It happens every day. Stop whining and open your mind to new possibilities.
    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth and GOT

  • Becky Lewellen Povich

    I love to browse through book stores and libraries of any size. I’m one of those people who likes the feel and smell of a book! I’ve purchased many books from stores of all shapes and sizes, sometimes paying full price, other times paying only pennies. I also like to browse online, mostly at Amazon, because they are so well known and have fantastic customer service. I believe that if B&N would start accepting self-published books in their stores, it could possibly help their sales. Who knows? And maybe it’s just the B&N in my neighborhood that won’t take books published by Createspace. Why? They dislike Amazon….to put it mildly.

  • serendipme

    Here is a few reasons I feel very positive about ebooks: My local library’s Overdrive (ebook borrowing) has reported a 400% increase in the last year. Ereaders are easier to hold and are an instant access to large-print books. I often forget to return physical books on time, but never have that issue when I borrow an ebook. If my kids want me to suddenly read them a story, I go online and borrow a children’s book instantly – our library adds new books daily! I live in remote area with no local bookstore and a very long winter. The technology of ebooks and the internet means I ALWAYS have access to books. My wish is that many elderly folks will continue to learn and adopt this technology and find their quality of life improved by this availability. While publishers are reporting a decrease in physical sales, ebook sales have enjoyed increases in many genres. Libraries and bookstores need to continue to embrace this technology; it isn’t going anywhere. They just need to look for ways to increase foot traffic that give the public something useful to them, while encouraging and FACILITATING online purchases. Especially a store like Barnes and Noble, which has an ereader and an app, it would be in their best interest to drive customers to their ebooks which they can easily accomplish while simultaneously supporting local communities in their bookstores by offering classes for elderly to assist with using their ebooks and apps, book clubs to support readers, and events for the youth. Stay viable, evolve, or fade. Technology is not the enemy.

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Great thoughts, thank you!

    • Bosslady

      Well, as one of the “elderly folks” you mention, we ARE up with the technology, but ereaders are hard to hold in arthritic hands. My Kindle is as heavy as a hard cover, even heavier than a paperback, heavy to carry in a purse or pocket, and awkward to hold. And I think other “elderly folks” will agree, they just don’t smell as good as paper and ink books.

      • Stacy Chambers

        The heaviness of the Kindle Fire was something my mom complained about as well. I bought her a lighter Samsung tablet and downloaded the Kindle app. I think a tablet is easier for her than other devices, but she does love her paperbacks.

  • C. C. Harrison

    Well, I love B & N, I’m still mourning Borders, and one of the pleasures of my life is sitting down in a bookstore coffee shop with a new book I just purchased especially after browsing the shelves and finding a new author to read or a new subject to read about. Amazon, though quick, easy and convenient, doesn’t offer THAT. And sad to say my local B & N is becoming deficient in that regard as well. Normally when I go there, I find many more books than I can afford to buy that day. Yesterday I spent nearly an hour browsing and only came up with two books. The reason? The shelves were scant, and the books that were offered were reissues of books I’ve already read by slam dunk big name authors. I would like to see the return of neighborhood bookstores, though. That would be good.

    • Rachelle Gardner

      I hear you, C.C. The bookstore/coffee shop combination is wonderful. Now I content myself with sitting in a coffee house with my iPad.

  • anon_coward

    my local B&N seems to only survive on the children’s section

  • tammy cordery

    What will happen to people that have Nooks. Will they not be able to download books or the apps.

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Not sure, Tammy, but if and when B&N closes, I imagine they’ll put something into place to take care of their Nook customers.

      • tammy cordery

        thank you I hope so I have 2 nooks.

  • http://lorilschafer.blogspot.com/ Lori Schafer

    I personally don’t see any reason to panic over the possibility of B & N closing. This has been coming for a long time, and even if it doesn’t happen this year, I think it’s unavoidable. It’s no different, really, from what happened in the home video industry. Remember Blockbuster and Hollywood Video? Yet I don’t hear anyone complaining that they have trouble finding movies to watch, because it turns out that the systems that evolved to replace the brick-and-mortar rental stores are vastly superior both in terms of selection and ease-of-access. Yes, it is the end of an era. There will be changes in how we find and read books. But it’s obvious that the majority of people have already made the switch – because if they hadn’t, the bookstores wouldn’t be in trouble. We will adapt to the new environment, and what’s more, it will adapt to us. Retailers are in business to make money, after all, and it’s in their best interest to ensure that readers’ needs are being met.

  • zundril

    But what of the value of the physical bookstore to the community – not just as a place to go, a meeting place, and a visual/physical reminder of books … online sales undercut community health by shifting local taxes away from the community …

  • http://tasha-turner.com/ Tasha Turner

    Great post Rachel. Totally agree.

    I started finding books as a kid in the library, moved on to friend recommendations, occasionally I used bookstores but I found them overwhelming, the bigger the more likely staff was unable to help me with my eclectic taste. Browsing hundreds or thousands of books I might like at cost I couldn’t afford was really stressful. Smaller used bookstores or niche stores and libraries were less stressful and staff was more knowledgable/understanding of eclectic needs/someone who wasn’t interested in the bestsellers.

    I have to say all this doom & gloom is getting kinda boring. The novel is dead. Print books are dead. Bookstores are dead. No one reads anymore.

    One: stop overreacting. Two: things change as they always have get with the program or go into something safe that doesn’t change like… Umm… Death? The world is always changing. How we do things is always changing. The only for sure things, and this could change with technology/medicine, people are born and eventually they die.

    Relax go with the flow, adapt, adjust. Remember breathing is good, panic is bad.

  • Stacy Chambers

    One thing I keep seeing in Shelf Awareness is that there’s recently been an uptick in business for independent bookstores. I think a lot of independents are finally getting a grip on what they can do that Amazon can’t.

  • http://www.friv4gaming.com/ Friv 4

    thank you for always bringing the most rewarding things to everyone, good luck

  • Shawn Spjut

    Between the internet and my local library, I’m not only browsing more, but I’m able to tract my favorite authors, discover new ones and find out where a book I’m after is, in the series and if there is a series. As much as I miss the days of B&M, if I really need to sit in the middle of books, I’ll go to the library – which by the way, I love. As for buying hardcover, soft or eBook, I’ve been doing that through the internet (at sites other than Amazon) for years. Change is inevitable, be it how we browse or buy our books. I for one am thankful we have the internet, so that I no longer have to rely solely on pub-reviews and Best Seller spots to find my next book.

  • carmen webster buxton

    If you think about it, running a bookstore is really, really hard. A lot of the people who walk through the door want a specific book. If you don’t have it, they don’t necessarily buy a different book instead. Imagine if the grocer had to guess which of 25,000 varieties of canned soup a customer would ask for? You might not like Jeff Bezos personally, but give the man credit for realizing before anyone else that the solution was giant warehouses and a well-designed website– and now ebooks and print on demand (POD) books!

    Who doesn’t love bookstores? But I happen to think the ones most likely to survive in the coming decade are not big chain stores but those that offer something a warehouse can’t– personal service, a knowledgeable staff, and a niche area (e.g., travel books, kids’ books, mysteries, etc) of coverage where they can compete with larger entities. POD might help in the future, but right now an Espresso book machine costs about $100,000 and can print a very limited number of books per day; they have to get cheaper and faster before they can truly help most small bookstores. It’s a great time to be a reader or a writer, but not so great to be a bookshop proprietor.

  • maryalice

    After the demise of Borders, I started wondering if the reality is that big box stores don’t suit book buyers. Like you mention (in the comments below), I like visiting the stores so I can visit with friends while being surrounded by books, but I tend to by books either at my local bookstore from people who I know and who know my taste or online. While it will be unfortunate when B&N closes, I’m inclined to think it might be good for the growth of well-managed, well-merchandised local bookstores. All to say, I applaud your article!

  • an author

    Great to see a level-headed post on this topic. It would be sad if B&N goes out of business, because it’s always awful when thousands of people lose their jobs. But let’s keep in mind, this country is full of fantastic bookstores that aren’t Barnes & Nobles, and a lot of them are not just surviving, but thriving and opening new locations. They’ve done this by offering the kind of personalized service that neither Amazon nor B&N can compete with. There are still a lot of places to browse.

  • Kate Barsotti

    In at least one case, a B&N store did cause the demise of an indie. Whistler’s Books lost at least 70% of its business when B&N opened, although they’d been an institution for some time with “loyal” customers. They might have survived if they’d specialized (a big risk), but they folded.

  • Steve

    I love Barnes & Noble, and love browsing in bookstores in general. I think publishers have driven the public into alternative buying strategies by restricting the kinds of books that get published. I have to ignore or reject 90% of the books in the big bookstores to find those few that are really interesting or different.

  • Eddie Jones

    Not in 2015. They’ll make it through the Holyday season. In 2016 they’ll restructure and focus on running college bookstores while at the same time pulling back to become a more nimble brick and mortar presence. But only in some locations. The big box approach will slowly go the way of Borders. Meanwhile large publishers will scramble to a) get paid for their inventory shipped into B&N stores and b) figure out how to sell onto shrinking shelves.

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  • Bill Giovannetti

    Remember Kroch’s and Brentano’s? Borders? Waldenbooks? We survived their demise… it’s the way of the world. (Remember Circuit City?)

    If it is Darwinian, then someone else will rise to take B&N’s place… Darwin would say so. Rahcelle, you’re exactly right: it could create space for the local mom & pop shops to stage a comeback. However, I hope B&N stays around for a very long time, and wish them well.

  • Suzan

    I really don’t care if they close. Their employees are unhelpful and rude, and their stores are filled with more “gifts” than books. In the B and N near my home, they took away all the chairs that had been scattered around the store. They don’t want people to browse or linger. I adored working at the long-gone Brentano’s on Fifth Avenue NYC many years ago, but that was then. I still enjoy the indie bookstores, because they actually sell books and hire people who know books. (Malaprops in Asheville, for example.)

  • Diana Flegal

    Great Post Rachelle. Oh, brother is right :-).

  • http://kpanastasi.com/ Katya Pavlopoulos

    I’ll miss their nicely-bound journals and elaborate bookmarks if they fold.

    With regards to books, I haven’t bought one from B&N in a couple years, since I realized that for one hard copy that would cost about $20-$25, I could get AT LEAST three e-books, or 10-12 e-books if I bought those for $1.99. It would be strange not having a massive bookstore in our downtown though :/

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  • http://www.kevinomclaughlin.com Kevin McLaughlin

    No argument at all. Well, I could quibble on a few random facts here and there, but yeah – overall, a well thought out piece.

    B&N is probably going to close, eventually. Their business model does not work. They are losing money. They will continue to lose money, likely more each year than the year before. Sooner or later, the plug will be pulled.

    And life will go on. Publishing will adapt. New bookstores will appear. Online bookselling is booming, and will continue to do so.

    The people who will be hurt worst by B&N closing will basically be the stockholders of the five or so biggest publishing companies (who will see major sales hits as a result), and the handful of authors whose books got expensive paid placement in the front of B&N stores.

    For everyone else? We’ll adapt, and move on. Not really a big deal.

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