Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Yesterday, the Titanic. Tomorrow, the Lusitania.

As much as I hate to say it, Barnes & Noble is a sinking ship. Their execs have been making a series of moves lately that smack of desperation.

1) They over-ordered the Nook Touch for last Christmas. And just like in December, they are currently having a sale--buy a Nook HD+ and get a Touch for free.

2) They've added more cute, kitchen-y items as well as foods other than sweets and caffeine. Seriously, when DH and I stopped for coffee at our local B&N after my eye doctor appointment on Monday, three of the five tables between the Nook counters and the cafe were filled with themed utensils, jams and bread mixes.

3) They announced the revolutionary idea of in-app purchases. But they won't be availabel until next month.

4) It used to be that B&N membership meant customers received one 15%-off coupon four times a year. I've received at least five 20-25%-off coupons, not to mention some sweet cafe deals, and it's not even the end of the first quarter yet.

5) B&N is engaged in a battle with Simon and Schuster over the payment for end caps and front table space. As a result, they are under-ordering or failing to order a huge amount of mid-list books. After preaching how much traditional publishers and bookstores need each other to survive, they've now turned on each other.

What's more significant are the things they've promised and haven't delivered, like streaming movies, TV shows or music.

Please don't get me wrong. I don't want to see Barnes & Noble fail. This month alone, I've sold 100 e-books compared to eighteen at Amazon. This is the rough 5-1 ratio I've been mentioning in the last few status updates. I have a vested interest in wanting them to succeed.

But honestly, I don't see how they can without moving into the 21st century. That means streaming entertainment and more digital downloads than just books. This means two-day in-store delivery of ordered books, not two-weeks. This means an honest and radical revision in how they do business, not stop-gap moves.

I'm afraid Barnes & Noble is sailing in a war zone, despite numerous warnings, just like the doomed RMS Lusitania. While it may not take eighteen minutes for Barnes & Noble to sink, the enemy torpedo has already hit the ship. It's just a matter of time until the magazine blows.


  1. Ugh. I don't want to see them go either.

  2. I agree, unfortunately. When about a third of the upper floor at the Reno B&N was taken up by toys and games, I had a bad feeling about B&N's viability as a BOOKstore, and that feeling hasn't improved in the... two years (three? something like that) since. Watching them running to catch up on other things -- and not running very fast -- just makes it that much more likely that they're going to tank.

    The good news is that the number of indie bookstores registered through the ABA has been growing for the last several years. I'll admit it was cool for a while to have these megabookstores where I could browse for an hour or two, and drop however much book money I had to spend on books of various genres and subjects (and still not be able to buy everything I wanted) but to be honest, those huge bookstores didn't exist when I was a kid, and we still managed to buy books whenever we wanted them. And that was way before Amazon, too. Readers and publishers and writers survived before B&N and Borders, and we'll survive after them.

    Or B&N's management might get a sudden rush of brains to the head and pull it all out. I hope they do, honestly. But I'm not betting on it.


  3. Honestly, ladies, I hate seeing any bookstore go out of business.

    And you're right, Angie, that we'll be around long after B&N or Borders.

    But part of my concern is for libraries. They're having issues thanks to the pissing contest of the BPHs.

    And I'm concerned for folks who don't have ready access to the libraries or the bookstores, who don't have credit cards to order from Amazon or the money to buy e-books, much less a device to read them.

    There's already a discrepancy in literacy levels between the haves and the have-nots, and I fear it will get worse.

  4. There are already companies making and organizations distributing simple, unbelievably tough laptops for kids who are poor and/or in the Third World. I think one of the groups is called A Laptop For Every Child, or something like that. If the trend toward e-books continues, and paper book become harder and harder to get ahold of, especially for poor people, I imagine a similar organization will pop up to develop basic, tough e-readers (or whatever device most people are using to read books by then) to poor people.

    And from what I've heard in online chatter, indie writers seem to be a lot more library-friendly than the big publishers, so that could be less and less of a problem too, as time goes on.

    The trick is to get the government to keep funding public libraries. Although circulating libraries were originally private, so even if the government goes stupid enough to bow out of that business, we could go back to private libraries. [ponder]