Not so long ago, major book retailer Barnes & Noble was the force to be reckoned with in the bookselling world, pushing out independent bookstores and dominating the bookselling market. From 720 stores across America, Barnes & Noble sells 300 million books annually, according to the Wall Street Journal. Now, falling stock prices have forced Barnes & Noble founder and chairman Leonard Riggio to consider all “strategic alternatives, including a possible sale.”
What caused the nation’s largest bookstore chain to put itself up for sale?
Experts speculate various reasons for the company’s financial straits, which may have been intensified by the rapidly changing digital technology in the bookselling trade.
The rise of ebooks, and Barnes & Noble’s lack in keeping up with the trend, may have influenced its downfall. Amazon now boasts selling more ebooks than hardcover books, while Google is set to launch its own ebook store, Google Editions, later this year.
“I know exactly when B&N lost me as a customer,” says James B. Stewart, SmartMoney magazine columnist. “Some years ago, to compete with Amazon, Barnes & Noble began offering free same-day delivery in Manhattan if you placed your order over the Internet by 11 a.m. I did so several times — and not once did the books arrive when promised. Everything I have ordered from Amazon has arrived on time or earlier. Then came Amazon’s game-changing Kindle, and instant delivery. Nothing I’ve read about B&N’s belated rival Nook has tempted me to try it.
“My hunch is that Barnes & Noble never really embraced the Internet or ebooks, tied as it was to the old-fashioned world of physical books and stores.”
With Barnes and Noble in an apparent decline, will other major bookstore chains such as Borders soon follow? Are we all to begin purchasing digital copies of books from the Internet, forsaking the bookstore experience altogether?
Probably not. The Internet is a fast, easy way to find and purchase books, in print or digital form, but it’s doubtful that brick-and-mortar bookstores will disappear altogether. After all, the experience of browsing stacks of books, sipping coffee, and speaking with a knowledgeable bookseller are all aspects that appeal most to those who love books.
Perhaps consumers will see a rise of the independent bookstore again, given that indie owners embrace the digital age to some extent while continuing to provide that quaint, bookstore experience. Many people still love the printed book, support independent bookstores, and resist the growing ebook market. Independent bookstores can provide a service to that particular set of book lovers.
Ultimately, the news of Barnes & Noble’s sale is yet another sign of the vast changes occurring in the publishing and bookselling industries. As books switch from print to digital format, it’s easy to imagine the bookstore going the way of the music store: from a staple of the shopping experience, to a quaint reminder of the past.
Trachtenberg, Jeffrey and Dennis Berman “Barnes & Noble on Block” Wall Street Journal
Stewart, James B. “Clearance Sale: Barnes & Noble Didn’t Evolve Enough” Yahoo! Finance