Barnes & Noble reaches its zero-moment point
February 15, 2018 12:49 PM   Subscribe

You may have heard about B&N's recent layoffs and hiring of a new chief merchandising officer in a brief abstract fashion, but you might not realize it marks a point of no return for the company: The entirely unnecessary demise of Barnes & Noble
This is a decision that is only made if the executive level of a company is no longer interested in helping their business. This is a decision that is made only if the executive level has decided the company is dying, and don’t care if they hasten along the demise as long as they can harvest the organs for themselves and leave everyone else with the shriveled husk.
posted by foxfirefey (192 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sadly, I said they were dying when they closed every store within a 30 minute radius of where I live.
posted by Samizdata at 12:55 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


The executives deciding a company isn’t making money fast enough and stripping the copper out of it while firing carrer employees and setting the entire enterprise out to fail is class war.
posted by The Whelk at 12:57 PM on February 15 [212 favorites]


They couldn't have made it any more obvious: sure, let's slash important staff right before the holiday season!! Yup, uh-huh, this isn't a calculated move on our part...
posted by Melismata at 12:58 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


So, if B&N goes kaput, where can I buy books from a similarly large selection that's not Amazon?
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:02 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


Half Price Books if you're lucky to have one near.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:04 PM on February 15 [19 favorites]


The loss of skilled shop staff on such a scale is going to cause massive loss of institutional knowledge: definite doom time.

On the other hand, B&N isn't dead until it's dead. Here in the UK, Waterstones—the last surviving national-scale big bookstore chain, the UK equivalent of B&N—looked in a similar desperate plight about five years ago. However, before it quite hit the buffers it was sold as a going concern, and an actual no-shit bookseller brought in as CEO: he managed to turn the company around by focussing on exactly the value-add that Amazon can't supply (expert booksellers on hand in each store) and got it back into viability, and then profit.

Is there something specifically toxic about B&N's ownership structure that causes their executive team to despair—or that selects only asset-stripping shitweasels for the C-suite—or could it be turned around by a takeover?
posted by cstross at 1:05 PM on February 15 [51 favorites]


A lot of cities and towns, especially those that have large universities, will have at least one big indie bookstore. There's also used book stores and library book sales.

And I don't go to B&N often, but every time I've been I've noticed more and more space dedicated to toys and puzzles.
posted by FJT at 1:06 PM on February 15 [17 favorites]


Didn't this same shit-flavored sort of thing kill Circuit City? Maybe it was more of a "Hey, look at these lower level employees making a good bit of money via commissions on huge sales, we better fix that bullshit." But yea, same shit, different day.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:07 PM on February 15 [8 favorites]


They are also dipping their toe into the easiest of money making ventures, the full-service restaurant, with Barnes & Noble Kitchen

Good team running that place.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:09 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


Holy shit that article. I don't even know how to process all this information.

It's stunning, and just...ugh...someone help me get some different angles on this.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:09 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


I think I've been in a Barnes and Noble once in the past few years, and the degree to which they've turned over floor space to toys and games wasn't encouraging.

On cstross's point: it probably is salvageable, if the shitweasels get banished before it goes into bankruptcy. I wouldn't expect that to happen: I'd actually expect it to look like Sears, complete with long, slow, protracted demise.

[On preview: The_Vegetables' link is just mind-boggling. They're in a death struggle against internet bookselling, and they're opening a damn restaurant?!? I think "shitweasels" is a vast overestimation of their c-suite's intellect. I've met smarter dead hamsters.]
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 1:09 PM on February 15 [13 favorites]


For some of the colleges/universities around here, the B&N *is* the college bookstore. So I'm wondering how that will shake out if/when B&N goes down.
posted by kimberussell at 1:09 PM on February 15 [23 favorites]


There was a Slate article two years ago about how Waterstones turned it around and that B&N needs to do the same to survive.
posted by jeather at 1:12 PM on February 15 [8 favorites]


Is there something specifically toxic about B&N's ownership structure that causes their executive team to despair

This totally fucked up get-yer-pitchforks part of the second link has a clue:

The Barnes & Noble executives do not intend to rebuild. How do I know this? Because every decision from the upper levels is being made solely to increase cash on hand.

I don't think it's 'desperation'; it's pure self-serving, short-term capitalism.
posted by knownassociate at 1:13 PM on February 15 [26 favorites]


I am so angry. I am sputtering to myself. Yes, we have a successful indie bookstore here in Asheville but it's not even a third the size of the B&N and it can't carry everything so things I like and buy aren't carried there. So for me, it was B&N or the online market and I would drive across town to the B&N and buy books. Maybe there's collusion with Bezos to make an even bigger monopoly; wouldn't surprise me. Maybe a real bookperson could revive it but that's not what they're hiring, is it? No. I'm going to my corner now.
posted by MovableBookLady at 1:16 PM on February 15 [9 favorites]


B&N's college bookstore arm is different from regular bookstores, they could probably keep that.

It just chaps me that B&N lasted longer than Borders, because Borders was so much better and treated their employees better (for a retail-worker value of "better").

They had the same problem though, they put Kmart execs in charge of books, a product and a market they manifestly failed to understand, right as Amazon came along to punch them in the receipts.

But Amazon sucks for browsing, it both sucks and blows, in fact, because as it turns out algorithms don't understand what kinds of books I like nearly as well as other people who know books. I only go there to get books I saw recommended elsewhere and I never browse because it's confusing and frustrating.

I would love to see a real Borders-type store (indie is fine!) in my area that managed to recapture that place-to-hang-out-and-find-cool-stuff magic our old store had.
posted by emjaybee at 1:17 PM on February 15 [45 favorites]


> By the way, it should be noted that the last CEO, who worked for Barnes & Noble for less than a year, received a $4,500,000 payout. The CEO before him, who also worked at Barnes & Noble for less than a year, received a $10,000,000 payout.

I understand that this sort of thing is how the CEO class looks after its own. What I don't understand is now this sort of thing can be justified to the almighty stockholders, whose interests, we're continually told are paramount above all else. Isn't that money that is essentially wasted unless you're one of the CEOs?
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:18 PM on February 15 [67 favorites]


I used to go into the local B&N when I was looking for a specific book and didn't feel like waiting to have it delivered. But it's been years since I could count on them having anything specific I wanted in stock. So then I switched to only going in when I wanted something to read right away, but I wasn't sure what. So they were okay for browsing. I could always count on finding something. Now, though, I've found that less and less true - although to be honest, it's also been a while since I didn't know what I wanted to read next, which they're pretty much guaranteed to not have in stock.

In other words, I've found them to be less and less useful as a place to buy books.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:18 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


y'all must have better b&n stores than me, cause here there's only handful of titles i would care to read, and the rest of the floorspace is given over to: toys, teenage vampire books, wwii/civil war porn, right-wing garbage, manga, and quasi-religious bunkum soup for the mouthbreathing soul
posted by entropicamericana at 1:21 PM on February 15 [42 favorites]


The way they treated their staff is deplorable, unequivocally. Simultaneously, I don't know how being a brick-and-mortar bookselling megastore is a viable business model, anymore.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 1:21 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


It's been a slow burn of badness since the 1990s at least when B&N sometimes parked themselves in the same shopping center as Borders. Both were undercutting the independents in whatever city they were located in. Now they're getting eaten by Amazon, and I should feel bad but I don't. I've been doing more Powells lately when it's not time-sensitive, and weirdly stuck cheering Wallmart/Kobo of all things.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:22 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


A Twitter user called @ReverendSteve posted a stream of angry & sad tweets the other day, after B&N canned him. (Thread starts here.) He was a longtime employee who won awards and even helped stop a store robbery.

It shows that a cost-cutting move often has very serious collateral damage to the store (who's going to do such a good job bringing in families for Story Time now?), to say nothing of the damage to the guy's life.

There is a giant B&N near me, and I like going in a couple of times a year, but it's like a half-hour drive each way, and everything costs way more than it does online. I love to browse bookstores -- and I still compulsively neaten shelves, thanks to my years at B. Dalton -- but I think that the big chains will eventually fall to Amazon, leaving very little between AMZ and the local indies.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:23 PM on February 15 [24 favorites]


Couple of points:

1. There’s a lot of different reasons, but the biggest is that Amazon loss-leads their books: that is, sells them at a loss, then makes up the money with expensive add-ons, like Echos or Kindles or other non-book stuff.

The Kindle started out at a loss leader, and I believe it still is. It's a razor blade thing. Come for the tablets and kindles, stay trapped in the ecosystem buying books.

Amazon makes (not much, their margins have always been thin) profit by trying to grow as big as possible, then ruthlessly using its monopsony power to drive down prices. Like Wal-mart. In fact, they were investigated for it by the FTC, which then realized that publishing companies formed a cartel to drive up ebook prices. Which then got the publishers sued by the FTC.

2. Oh, I know! I would tighten my belt at the executive level, then I would double-down on what we can offer that Amazon can’t: enthusiastic staff that can find and upsell books to suit each customer, and the largest in-store selection possible so that everyone who comes in can walk away with what they want.

I am dubious about paeans to quality. Going from jeather's Slate link:

The company was £170 million (about $260 million) in debt and about to file for bankruptcy when, miraculously, it was rescued by the billionaire Alexander Mamut, a complicated, influential figure in Putin’s Russia who one British broadsheet dubbed “the most powerful oligarch you have never heard of.”

So step one is find a corrupt Russian oligarch. Maybe not the thing to do in these strange geopolitical times.
posted by zabuni at 1:25 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


The toy and puzzle thing is something I've noticed too. I think it's actually smart affiliative retailing -- I would absolutely guess the market for puzzles and board games (particularly word and strategy games) overlaps heavily with book lovers. And the understanding that book shops benefit from functioning as more than a book retailer in one way or another (gift shop + coffee shop, obviously, among other options like community space) is in line with common wisdom.

The decisions described in the 2nd link, those sound common enough too, I suppose, but mostly in the way that highlights the potential disconnect between business interests at the agent level and the needs the business ostensibly exists to respond to. If that's the spirit in which B&N chooses to manage itself, well guys, what you are about to do, do quickly.
posted by wildblueyonder at 1:27 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


The executives deciding a company isn’t making money fast enough and stripping the copper out of it while firing carrer employees and setting the entire enterprise out to fail is class war.

And has been going on since the 1980s at least -- for crying out loud, it was half the plot of Pretty Woman, and the Gere character proved he was a ood guy after all by deciding to run the company instead of picking the carcass clean.
posted by Gelatin at 1:28 PM on February 15 [11 favorites]


I have been living for a year and a half now with no better local bookstore than Books-a-Million, which doesn't even seem to stock books about any religions other than Christian and New Age. I mean, it's very easy to say, "It was a bad bookstore anyway," but I actually miss Barnes and Noble a lot now that I don't have one, now that I do a sad perimeter of the Books-a-Million once every couple weeks and leave empty-handed.

(From a college town WITHOUT a good indie bookstore, alas).
posted by Jeanne at 1:29 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Generally Waterstones is a much smaller box than B&N. Sure they have a few large locations, but the bread and butter outside of the flagship is quite a bit smaller.

really B&N is just one more example of a big box retailer that eventually didn't work as a bit box anymore. Its just too much space to make work even with real booksellers behind the counters. Sometimes things just die.

There is no asset stripping to be done here. Other than inventory B&N doesn't really own much. The stores are all leased.
posted by JPD at 1:32 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


Simultaneously, I don't know how being a brick-and-mortar bookselling megastore is a viable business model, anymore.

Yeah, I kind of agree. The county, city, and university library systems around me have also upped their game. Our own county library system has an annual author/book convention held in a fancy airport hotel that actually sells out 4 months in advance (and it gets a little earlier every year). I counted about 50 or so authors appearing that day. These authors would probably have gone to B&N years before, and maybe they still do, but I never hear about it.
posted by FJT at 1:33 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


As someone who was once laid off (along with dozens of other really good people) in order to boost a company's margins, I can only say this...

Welcome to business in America.
posted by prepmonkey at 1:33 PM on February 15 [13 favorites]


I think I've been in a Barnes and Noble once in the past few years, and the degree to which they've turned over floor space to toys and games wasn't encouraging.

That seems to be the case at a lot of large bookstores. Joseph Beth Booksellers here in Cincinnati has shifted considerable floorspace from books to "gifts"--candles, cards, bags, other stuff. Generally locally themed and produced. I've seen other bookstores take a similar track (even Powell's had a larger-than-expected non-book footprint).

I've mixed emotions about this. I value having cool bookstores. On one hand, I hate what it signals: surrender to buying books online, eBooks, etc. I have to confess I'm part of the problem there. On the other hand, if these sales help keep the overall business afloat, so I can get book signings, storytimes, and the community so often associated with bookstores, it's a means to the ends.

Plus, it makes getting something for my mother for her birthday that much easier.
posted by MrGuilt at 1:34 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


.

I haven't been in one for probably five years, and even then the toys-games-and-stationary cruft was taking over an alarming percentage of the retail space -- that had been slowly accelerating since at least 2006 or so, as I remember -- but I'm going to miss B&N. Yeah, it was a corporate chain, and it wasn't as cool as Borders, but its stores were pretty reliable havens for me in my teenage need-someplace-that-isn't-home-to-go years, and they stayed open until 10.

For some of the colleges/universities around here, the B&N *is* the college bookstore. So I'm wondering how that will shake out if/when B&N goes down.

They'll probably jump to Amazon's version of that service if these operations aren't spun off -- though Amazon was an absolute shitshow when the university I worked for made the switch. Unlike B&N, they maintained no actual bookstore spaces on the campus. Only lasted two years before they threw in the towel, but by that time, of course, the institutional knowledge about how to have a campus bookstore had been lost, and they'd converted the bookstore space into Amazon lockers and a Starbucks. So now they have to hire some other vampiric outsourcing operation to replace Amazon, probably using the same shipping model, which will solve none of the problems that the Amazon model had in the first place (like students waiting until the first day of classes to buy books they'd need that same week, or students changing their class schedules and being unable to just go to a bookstore and return or exchange books).

Not an in-person replacement, but Better World Books is pretty good for online book needs.
posted by halation at 1:36 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


Maybe a real bookperson could revive it but that's not what they're hiring

Yeah, agreed. I was lucky to grow up with Boarders 1#, before they sold out, and the staff is what made the place great. Contrast to 'Books O' million' where the main clerk couldn't find the book "Willy Wonka". So a job applicant, me, had to tell the customer...oh, hell, I got the book myself for her, made the manager look like a fool and, of course, I did not get the job.

I have bought 3 books on-line and am impressed so far but still.
posted by clavdivs at 1:39 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


What a strange world we live in. Just a few short years ago all the book lovers I know were bemoaning B&N's stranglehold on the market as they pushed out most indie booksellers, and now people are wringing hands and gnashing teeth over *their* demise and looking for alternatives to amazon. Since amazon has started playing with the idea of having an actual presence in meatspace, I have no doubt that at some point they'll offer on B&N and six months later we'll be reading stories about how they force their cashiers to to write checklists for writing checklists and docking their pay if it takes more than 3.7 seconds to ring up a sale.
posted by xyzzy at 1:46 PM on February 15 [9 favorites]


Is there something specifically toxic about B&N's ownership structure

It's American. That's pretty much all that needs to be said these days.
posted by aramaic at 1:47 PM on February 15 [21 favorites]


Like WalMart, it's weird to see Amazon do to B&N what B&N previously did to the mom-and-pops.

OTOH those indie bookstores that survived do seem to be doing OK.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:47 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Fortune: Why Barnes & Noble Wants Smaller Stores
“Our goal is to get smaller,” Barnes & Noble Chief Executive Demos Parneros, who took the reins in April, told Wall Street analysts on a conference call. “We want to have smaller stores that are more efficient.”

[...]

“Going forward, we will place a greater emphasis on books, while further narrowing our non-book assortment,” Parneros said, signaling a reversal of Barnes & Noble strategy to diversify its offerings and jump on hotter categories like games and toys. The company has nonetheless benefited in recent years from hot trends like coloring books and vinyl records to prop up sales. (Last year it blamed the absence of a hit like Adele’s 2015 album “25” for its dismal holiday season numbers.)
Per the link, they've got a couple of pilot stores running, and as the leases wind up on their fleet of Big Boxes, they may open more of the smaller ones. Leases on 20% of its 600+ stores will come up for renewal within a year, which will give them the opportunity to revamp or close. That flexibility should continue as B&N typically opted for short lease terms.

We'll see.
posted by notyou at 1:49 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Simultaneously, I don't know how being a brick-and-mortar bookselling megastore is a viable business model, anymore.

It's funny. Twenty-five years ago, there were nearly a dozen new or used book and/or magazine stores within walking distance of where I live. Then the megastores arrived and by the early aughties there were none within walking distance. Then there only megastores. Then, five or six years ago, the megastores started dying off. But at the same time a few small used book stores opened and have been largely successful so far. I wonder if the end of the big box book stores will free space for smaller physical bookstores or if David Garnett's words will continue to be wise: "Never be a bookseller."

I've rarely ever bought anything from B&N except magazines. But it'd be a shame to lose that opportunity.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:51 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


I wonder also if other, non-tangible stuff has helped do away with this. Like - I used to buy books at bookstores, because when I went in, bookstores had cozy couches and sometimes I would sit down and read the first chapter or two of a book to see if I would really like it. And now, bookstores don't have those cozy reading places anymore, the only chairs are at the coffee restaurant, where you are putting food near books, which is insane. So why would I go to one of those bookstores anymore? All of the pleasures of it are gone.

And I wonder if that's part of why putting these 'savior' CEOs in has always gone badly, because they cut out 'unprofitable' stuff and take the soul of the place out, and then they wonder why they're losing money.
posted by corb at 1:52 PM on February 15 [20 favorites]


I've been watching the decline of B&N for years, since ebooks started to pick up and Amazon started to knock holes in the big-chain-bookstore market by being better at it than them. And since they bought and killed fictionwise (formerly Peanut Press), I've been waiting for them to die - because while "buy out and shut down the competition" is sometimes a valid (if sleazy) business plan, "buy out the competition, take over their customers, then screw them over" is not.

I wouldn't say I'm "gleefully" waiting for their death, because I know how many communities rely on them as their only substantial bookstore. There is, however, a certain satisfaction in watching their crappy, poor-customer-service business plans get exactly the results that long-time readers said they would. If you screw over the readers, they won't buy stuff, and they won't tell their friends to buy stuff, and it really doesn't matter how many gift calendars and stuffed toys you have, because your name is known as a bookstore.

Firing huge numbers of their experienced workers is a terrific way to (1) convince the general public that you're greedy or incompetent or both, and (2) convince the local community that they might as well buy from Amazon. Firing them with no notice means "our business plan is fine with all our ex-employees hating us."

This looks like, conscious or not, a plan for dissolution, with the guys at the top working hard to squeeze out the largest benefits packages they can for themselves.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:58 PM on February 15 [8 favorites]


I'd go to B&N but they closed both of the stores in my city a while ago. Interestingly, there's been a whole bunch of indie bookstores opening over the last few years so someone is still buying books.
posted by octothorpe at 1:58 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Didn't this same shit-flavored sort of thing kill Circuit City?

Pretty much, yeah. I wonder if B&N is going to get the same liquidation company that did CC, the one that (in this TAL episode) actually raised prices for the closeout sale.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:09 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


My local Indigo closed recently and while its closing annoys me I can't think of the last time I actually bought a book from them. If I want a book quickly I'll order it from Amazon and it'll show up within a day. If I'm willing to wait for it I'll place a hold at the library. A big box book store doesn't really offer anything better than Amazon or the library.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:10 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Listened to an episode of the Cracked podcast last month that brought up the now obsolete dynamic of You've Got Mail. Aren't indie bookstores thriving right now in this country? The episode made a claim that they're one of the very few brick and mortar type stores that are successful, because they are built around the community experience and that's what allows them to thrive, not endless inventory.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:12 PM on February 15 [11 favorites]


I visited a Barnes & Noble in December and was amused to find that they had dedicated an entire aisle, on both sides, to Funko Pop figures.
posted by skymt at 2:14 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


What I don't understand is now this sort of thing can be justified to the almighty stockholders, whose interests, we're continually told are paramount above all else. Isn't that money that is essentially wasted unless you're one of the CEOs?

What if the almighty stockholders are CEOs who built their wealth this way?
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:17 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


What if the almighty stockholders are CEOs who built their wealth this way?

Usually that's just called a circlejerk, but I'm not sure if there's a more appropriate term when all that jerking produces a big bowl of cash instead of a big bowl of sperm.
posted by deadaluspark at 2:20 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


So, if B&N goes kaput, where can I buy books from a similarly large selection that's not Amazon?

Powell's. I'd give my money to them over amazon anyday.
posted by hydra77 at 2:20 PM on February 15 [25 favorites]


Just a note - yes, toys/gifts/games are taking over space in B&N, but much of that space was dedicated to CDs and DVDs not so many years ago. Also, the profit margins on t/g/g (we called that stuff "sidelines" at Borders) are higher than those on books.

B&N has lasted this long because it was smarter than Borders, and they've been on "likely to close" lists for what seems like years now. We'll see what happens, but I'm not counting them out just yet.
posted by booksherpa at 2:22 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Borders' original plan was rock-solid and would still work: "Open a big bookstore in large college towns that don't have one." It was when they decided they need to expand to every large city that they hit problems - every city doesn't have the interest in supporting a large bookstore. And later, they did delightfully stupid things like pit the book sales and coffeeshop sales against each other, so the two sides of the company were competing for customer dollars, instead of encouraging them to upsell each other.

BN has fallen into the same trap: it decided that everything that distracted the customers from buying was a detriment, so it cut back on lounging areas and kid-friendly areas. And they decided to pit the online store and the brick-and-mortars against each other: the same content wasn't available at each; coupons for one wouldn't work at the other. They got into ebooks with a disaster of a plan and possibly the worst customer service in the industry. ("We don't care if we delivered you literally the wrong book - no refunds.")

At no point in the last 10 years have they shown any awareness of why and how people buy books, so of course their business plans keep flailing and flopping.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:24 PM on February 15 [23 favorites]


I was born to be a bookseller.

I can hand-sell books like no other. I can make interesting displays, and am incredibly wide read. I consider it an obligation to know at least two books to recommend in any section including Sports, Architecture, and Romance. Give the an author and I can tell you the title of every book he/she has written in the past 20 years (if I've read it). Give me a title I've read in the past 20 years and I can tell you the author.

I am no longer a bookseller.

Twenty years on I see former customers of mine, and I can still tell you what their tastes are (or at least were back when I was providing their fix).

It may not feel like it to these people now, but being laid off from a bookstore is probably the best thing that could ever happen to them. They are smart people. They will land in better jobs. Better paying at least.

I worked for BGI for 6 years. I'd still be there if I could have figured out a way to pay my bills on the salary of a bookseller. I couldn't figure this out.

It took me years to enjoy bookstores again. Sort of like how fast food workers often despise fast food, I hated going into bookstores. I always looked at how poorly they did with merchandising. I'd find myself compulsively fixing faceouts, and since I had the next two years of major release schedules memorized, I was seldom surprised by an unexpected title.

My retirement dream has long been to buy a genre bookstore and to live above it. People always try to convince me to do this now, and I always think, "But I like eating, and then what would I do in retirement?" Why are people so keen on taking my retirement dreams away? Anyway, I still plan to do this, but only when I can afford to buy the building and land it sits on. I'll be open when I feel like it, and my regular customers will know to knock on my door if they need anything. I won't care if I make money, and I plan to do nothing but sit around and read all day.

Maybe I'll buy a folding Barnes and Noble.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:24 PM on February 15 [107 favorites]


and I still compulsively neaten shelves, thanks to my years at B. Dalton

You and me both!

And now, bookstores don't have those cozy reading places anymore, the only chairs are at the coffee restaurant, where you are putting food near books, which is insane. So why would I go to one of those bookstores anymore? All of the pleasures of it are gone.

And I wonder if that's part of why putting these 'savior' CEOs in has always gone badly, because they cut out 'unprofitable' stuff and take the soul of the place out, and then they wonder why they're losing money.


Yes. Make people uncomfortable and they leave.

A big box book store doesn't really offer anything better than Amazon or the library.

They used to. And some indies do, some don't. The great thing about the big boxes in their heyday was not just inventory, but space to hang out. The Borders I worked in had a little area in the video section that ran movies and a few theater seats in front of it; free movies! If you happened to like what was playing, which was always something interesting because the woman who ran that section was a film school grad. There was room for a story-time area with stage in the kid section. And yeah, the coffee bar was nice too.

Little storefront indies can't do that.

I understand that maybe that just isn't a workable model anymore, but damn, that place used to be swarming. We had to kick people out at closing time. Fort Worth didn't (still doesn't) have many large, indoor, non-booze-related places to hang out. And in the summer it's too hot to use outdoor spaces in the daytime. And you didn't have to be so quiet as you did at the library. It had a lot going for it, till they ran it into the ground and killed it off.
posted by emjaybee at 2:27 PM on February 15 [19 favorites]


The sad thing is that the talented experienced employees are the main thing differentiating a store like Barns & Noble from Amazon.

I almost never shop at B&N, but last time I was in one, it was to pick up a couple young adult reads as a gift for a cousin at an upcoming family event. I go down to the YA section, am quickly approached by a salesperson, tell her the broad details, and she's off grabbing options, all of which she can describe vividly to the point of giving me the best idea possible whether someone I don't even particularly know well would like them (whether said books ever got opened by my cousin is another factor, of course). She was fantastic, and I made a point of getting her name and telling her manager as such. But she also did what Amazon can't, which was to provide really great personal advice, because she obviously was really passionate about books and knew her job damn well.

Experienced staff are the one thing they have going for them. If retail stores reduce themselves entirely down to "Amazon, but with standing in line, disorganized shelves, out of stock products, and confused staff," they're adding absolutely no value.

Or as Christopher Mims put it recently: Imagine if Amazon were actually just poorly organized warehouses where you have to pick all your own goods, then wait in line to clear them, then drive them home yourself. That's a grocery store.
posted by zachlipton at 2:30 PM on February 15 [15 favorites]


I live in Los Angeles, a major city with an abundance of amazing indie bookstores (Hello, Last Bookstore!).

Losing our local Barnes & Noble would stink, but wouldn't impact us that much. Then I think of all the other places where Barnes & Noble is the only non-ecommerce game in town... and that makes me pretty sad.
posted by huskerdont at 2:35 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


cjorgensen, I would like to visit your bookstore.

I lived in Santa Barbara in the 90s, and I was a dedicated Earthling customer, until Borders and B&N drove them out of business. I preferred Borders to B&N, but then they went under, too. My kids now love going to B&N, but mostly because it's where books are. Any bookstore will do for them. I'm lucky to live in the San Fernando Valley, because there are indie bookstores and used bookstores that I can go to. I fear for people who will be left with nothing but Walmart and public libraries that are being starved for funding and can't buy books.

People talk about "food deserts," but "book deserts" seem to also be a thing.
posted by curiousgene at 2:36 PM on February 15 [16 favorites]


I live in Los Angeles, a major city with an abundance of amazing indie bookstores (Hello, Last Bookstore!).

The problem with the Last Bookstore, as well as every other establishment in Downtown Los Angeles, is that they won't let you use the restrooms. I understand that homeless people getting into the restrooms is a nuisance and sometimes a health hazard, but if you're not going to let my kids into the bathroom, I'm not going to visit you. Don't try to tell me the Walgreens down the block has restrooms, we both know they've got "OUT OF ORDER" signs up, as does the Starbucks across the street. I'll go to Vromans or the Iliad instead.
posted by curiousgene at 2:39 PM on February 15 [12 favorites]


I worked for bookstores and they did exactly this. Multiple ones. I worked for a grocery store and they did exactly this. I worked for a furniture store and they did exactly this. This is not news, in the traditional sense. This is how retail in America works. This is capitalism. I’m so over it. I want to live in a country that values its people. I want that here for us, but I’m starting to believe it will never happen.
posted by greermahoney at 2:44 PM on February 15 [17 favorites]


Not an in-person replacement, but Better World Books is pretty good for online book needs.

My experience with Better World Books has been like buying lottery tickets. On a couple of occasions I’ve won big and received unexpected signed copies, books with interesting postcards or 70 year-old publishers’ catalogs inserted and sometimes I’ve received damaged books or no books at all. I still throw 20 dollars at them now and then just to see what I’ll get, but I’d never go looking for something there.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:48 PM on February 15



I
DID
NOT
THINK
I COULD
GET THIS
AAANGRY
ANYMORE!!


MAMMON!
FILTHY LUCRE!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:50 PM on February 15 [11 favorites]


How fucking awful for those workers :-(
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:01 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


Having worked at a barnes and noble: Yes they deserve to die, and I hope they burn in hell.
posted by Ferreous at 3:06 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


*sigh*

For new books, in my neck of the woods, there are a couple of small indies (one in the village, another a couple of villages over), and, um, Barnes & Noble about twenty miles away. B&N also runs the campus bookstore, but the campus bookstore is lacking something--namely, books, other than a few small shelves and the textbooks. Losing the B&N (which, I should note, is always bustling when I drop by) would not do the local book-buying community any favors, unless somebody decided to step up and take advantage of the gap. Which, who knows. Ironically, the situation would be even worse near my parents in Southern CA, where there are virtually no non-used indie shops and the only bookstores within relatively convenient driving distance are both B&N. (Downtown Los Angeles, unfortunately, does not really qualify as "convenient driving distance" for the purposes of book-browsing, given traffic.)

As a consumer, though, I have to say that B&N's decision to eliminate all of the "new books" shelves continues to fill me with rage. (They seem to have snuck a couple of them back in lately, but in very restricted form.) I understood why they did it--"hey, let's force people to go through all the shelves to find new stuff!"--but it was a massive inconvenience, and massively inconveniencing your customers maybe doesn't serve the cause of profit any?
posted by thomas j wise at 3:10 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


My queendom for Powell’s and Kinokuniya bookstores at density levels rivaling Starbucks coffee.
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:17 PM on February 15 [13 favorites]


Imagine if Amazon were actually just poorly organized warehouses where you have to pick all your own goods, then wait in line to clear them, then drive them home yourself.

That's a pretty good description of Costco or Sam's Club or BJ's, and they seem to do okay. (I think they're a major portion of the paper book market, too, at least for hardcovers.)

I'm conflicted about B&N, because I remember when they and Borders had a weirdly cozy duopoly and basically drove all the independent bookstores out of business. Presumably if they hadn't done it, someone else would have, because it was the 90s and the peak of Shopping Mall America, but I still feel a bit like it's a reap-what-you-sow situation.

But still... they were a bookstore, and I like bookstores, damnit. After the Borders closed, my SO and I could have a reliably pleasant date night going to the local B&N and spending whatever we would have spent on movie tickets and popcorn on books and coffee. (I've never felt that the inclusion of a coffee shop was necessarily a bad thing, although I always thought they were surprisingly lax about letting you bring unpaid merch in there to read.)

If/when they finally go under, the thing I'm really going to miss is the periodicals and magazines. I don't know if the profit margin on them is enough to keep a separate store going (or if the magazines themselves are even long for this world), but they had a pretty good selection, and going through all the obscure specialist magazines and quarterlies was always fun. I've yet to really find a substitute for that experience online.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:22 PM on February 15 [11 favorites]


Barnes & Noble Kitchen
I went to a store with one of these at Christmas time and the restaurant was empty. We were there for calendars and circled the whole store without finding one. Finally we asked and they said people don't buy them anymore. Um, but they buy food from B&N?
posted by soelo at 3:23 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


As much as I'd love bookstores to be as ubiquitous as Starbucks - there are not thousands of people in most urban areas who want to spend $2-$5 per day, every day, on books.

Any fix for the publishing industries and future of bookstores is going to have to cope with the fact that most people are much happier with their info and entertainment to be animated on pixelated screens. Books were always something that most people put up with rather than enjoyed.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:27 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


The toy and puzzle thing is something I've noticed too. I think it's actually smart affiliative retailing -- I would absolutely guess the market for puzzles and board games (particularly word and strategy games) overlaps heavily with book lovers.

Boardgamers at least are somewhat happy to see chain retailers step in. Currently there's no specialty nationwide retail franchise dedicated to boardgames. What does exist is a large number of independent shops running combination comicbook stores, warhammer, and magic, with board games on the side. B&N's reputation of carrying games, and occasional buy 2 get 1 free sales make them somewhat popular with people who would otherwise shop at Amazon.

However, there's been a concerted effort the past year or so to monopolize board games. A private equity firm has been buying up basically every US publisher and snapping up rights to evergreen titles like Catan. And then instituting Minimum Advertised Price policies, with fangs that get sharper with every acquisition. This theoretically helps speciality retailers, but a) B&N doesn't have much to offer beyond discounts and b) MAP policies will eventually be used to turn the screws on speciality retailers across the board.
posted by pwnguin at 3:34 PM on February 15 [15 favorites]


I live in Los Angeles, a major city with an abundance of amazing indie bookstores (Hello, Last Bookstore!). Losing our local Barnes & Noble would stink, but wouldn't impact us that much.

The B&N in Santa Monica closed just before Christmas. I'm pretty sure that means there's no large bookstore anywhere on the westside anymore. There's one B&N in Marina del Rey, but it's tiny, and probably doomed. The indies are great, for sure, but hardly the same for family browsing. Not to mention magazines.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 3:34 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


People like books just fine. Per the article, the more significant fact that bookstores are going to have to cope with is that they can’t afford to pay $4.5m to a former CEO as an exit package for his one year of work while a crowd of other soon-to-be-former executives lines up to be next.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 3:34 PM on February 15 [11 favorites]


My husband and I met 25 years ago working at a Barnes and Noble in Evanston. For both of us, it was our first job after graduating from college. We were part of a group (about 20 or so, all full-time) hired before the location had opened, so we got to spend the first few weeks unpacking and shelving an entire store full of new books. It was amazing, in a mindless, fetishistic sort of way.

I quickly found out that customer service is not one of my strengths, but all things considered, I'm glad I worked there when I did, and I'll be sorry to see the stores go under.
posted by bibliowench at 3:42 PM on February 15 [9 favorites]


I agree that there's plenty of market for books, if they're not paying venture-capital prices for CEOs and board dividends, and they're not trying to "be the next Amazon" or whatever BN has persuaded its upper management is the actual plan here.

Bookselling has never been a get-rich job, and mostly not a get-comfortable job. At its best, it's a not-lose-money venture, and it's facing a whole lot of competition for potential customers, of types that didn't exist a few decades ago.

The upside is that there are more potential customers now, and they're almost all reading something on a daily basis. Some indie stores are thriving because they've figured out how to find their market, but the large ones can't change strategies quickly.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:45 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


What I don't really understand about the naive pro-capitalist types who argue that mostly-unfettered markets are the best known mechanism for wealth creation (wealth in the sense of abstract value, not money) is how they can miss how much easier it is to extract wealth at the expense of others than it is to generate it (and in fact becomes easier with the more wealth one already controls in a faster-than-linear fashion). It's not surprising that rich people are going to make the easy choice when faced with that sort of decision.
posted by invitapriore at 3:46 PM on February 15 [16 favorites]


What saddens me most about all of this is that before B&N was merely a credible Borders competitor in the super-mass-market class, they were one of New York City's great bookstores. I have vivid memories of my grandmother taking me to the Fifth Ave and 18th Street store to buy science fiction (some for her, some for me).

What's getting sucked down the drain in the bitter endgame of management's failed growth-hacking isn't just a national brand, and it isn't even just the place where thousands of dedicated workers bent over backwards to share their love of books and reading. It's a bit of NYC history every bit as idiosyncratic and special as CBGB or the Carnegie Deli.

.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:46 PM on February 15 [22 favorites]


The toy and puzzle thing is something I've noticed too.

Before our local B&N closed some years ago, they had an excellent kids' section. It did have toys, but the section was big enough that it had an excellent and very-well-organized collection of kids' books, from board books through young adult stuff. It was given a lot of floor space, and there were tables and benches throughout, and it was set apart from the main part of store in such a way that you could take your kids there and not worry that they were going to bother other customers. The staff in that section were helpful and knowledgeable as well.

That, combined with the escalators in that location, made it a favorite place for me and my kids. We liked browsing for books, and then getting a snack in the cafe while we read our new stuff.

Our other local bookstore--a generally very good indie--shelved all their young people's books by author's last name. So, middle grade books are mixed in with late elementary books are mixed in with young adult. At B&N, those were separate shelving areas. Shelving all those books together made it harder for a kid to browse books at the appropriate level.

The indie has improved its young people's section in the past few years, but it's not what we had at B&N. They had really great staff doing really good work in the kids' section.
posted by Orlop at 3:49 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I am from Canada, but when I am in the US, I always go to B&N because I am a book junkie, but I have noticed in the last few months that in certain categories no new offerings of books have been on the shelves, such as arts/crafts, which B&N used to be my go-to place for them.

In my country, it is a monopoly: Indigo/Chapters/Coles is one company, and there is no big rival to counter them, just a few indie bookstores. I was always distressed how Canada was in such trouble -- both as a reader and an author. The cradle of civilization is in the bookstore.

But the US is finding itself in similar trouble. You lost the beautiful, wonderful Borders. Without B&N, it will get people out of the habit of exploring books in person.

I am sorry to hear this news. This isn't a foregone conclusion, but things could be revise and reinvented. People look for sure things that bring prosperity with no risk, and that doesn't exist.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:57 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Amazon doesn't care what you know about books or what you've read. They care about what you've bought and what other people who bought what you bought bought. What they show you is based on that, and that makes it fundamentally different than an independent.
posted by Stanczyk at 3:57 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


I was one of those cut loose on Monday, who had absolutely no idea it was coming. Completely blindsided. Just called into the managers office a few hours into my shift and told my position had been eliminated, effective immediately. Pack your things and go. At least they didn't escort me out of the building like they were supposed to. I'd worked for B&N for 15 years but that didn't make me a valued employee, it just made me too expensive to keep around.
posted by nothing as something as one at 4:03 PM on February 15 [103 favorites]


That's straight-up bullshit, nothing. I'm sorry.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:04 PM on February 15 [23 favorites]


B&N College is somewhat independent from B&N. And they have the predominant marketshare of the physical university textbook store landscape. That too is being eroded by Amazon which since 2012 has sold the majority of textbooks to students. B&N is fucked.
posted by Stanczyk at 4:06 PM on February 15


I was a bookseller for a number of years and even owned a really great bookstore. Sold it when I had a kid. It closed @ 5 years ago because, Amazon. If you have to work, spending your days surrounded by books and people who love books and who read is pretty great. If I were a bookseller now, and customers came in, browsed, then stood there ordering from Amazon, on their phone, in my store, well, that wouldn't be pretty. When a Borders opened in my area, I was so glad I didn't own a bookstore any more. Borders had an astonishing inventory. Shambala Press books that I'd have carried and been the only store in Maine to stock even 1 copy, Borders would have 6 on the shelf. My old store was in a cool old building, a brick wall, an old vault from olden times, tall ceiling, vaulted skylight, chairs and even a desk for customers. Borders was a great place to hang out, and they had coffee. My order from a big publisher would get me a certain deal, not a great deal. Borders ordered so much for so many stores they got great deals from publishers. Though publishers' sales reps love books and indie booksellers and they would send me lots of review copies and help any way they could.

head cashiering, receiving, digital, newsstand, bargain. Those are hard jobs that take training. I hate to tell you, my bookselling friend, but I have had many jobs since bookselling. I have done those jobs (except digital) in a number of bookstores. They're worth doing, but they aren't that hard.

know why Amazon’s prices are so much lower than B&N’s... Amazon loss-leads their books: that is, sells them at a loss, then makes up the money with expensive add-ons, like Echos or Kindles or other non-book stuff. Nope. Amazon is ruthlessly efficient and does huge volume. They lean on publishers to get the best pricing. They work their warehouse employees to the bone and pay them as little as possible. Story time brings in customers and it's nice. But it doesn't make a dent in the bottom line. A brick&mortar bookstore does readings and story time and signings mostly for credibility, and because they love books and authors. Amazon discounts books to a narrow profit margin, sells a lot of them, drives the competition out of business and, Profit!

The loss of these veterans, and the positions they worked, cannot be recovered from. Barnes & Noble is going under. There are an awful lot of people working retail and an awful lot of them would loooove to work in a bookstore instead of Target. They're going under because bookstores are now a niche business with no room for error and they made a crapton of errors, like investing heavily in Nook.

it’s the way capitalism works ... 14,500,000 in executive payouts Now you've got it. It's the capitalism, friend. You have dedicated employees who have been there for years and have gotten raises. Probably not great raises, but they might even have benefits, too. This is capitalism, and employees are a commodity. Except execs. Might have to see them at the golf course, they get a parachute. This is a really shitty way to treat a person. And brick&mortar stores are in communities and people notice that the nice people at the bookstore got treated like crap. They might care a little. Amazon literally makes employees stand in line for security checks, because they won't hire enough security staff. And they don't pay you while you wait for your security check. And the US Supreme Court says that's fine, because capitalism.

nothing as something as one, I'm so sorry. I really hate the way things work these days. I'm supposed to be getting conservative as I age, but I really want to overthrow capitalism.
posted by theora55 at 4:09 PM on February 15 [40 favorites]


Before our local B&N closed some years ago, they had an excellent kids' section. It did have toys, but the section was big enough that it had an excellent and very-well-organized collection of kids' books, from board books through young adult stuff.

Books for kids of friends and family is the reason my wife and I go to B&N. Sections for picture books, board books, my first ABC style books. Pick them up, see if they are sturdy, look at the illustrations, see characters the kids like. They even had stuffed animal versions of a lot of characters from the books. I just cannot imagine browsing through the endless section on Amazon for those kind of books.
posted by ALongDecember at 4:10 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I worked at a B&N one summer and enjoyed it. I sold books, then wrapped them haphazardly. The manager of my store was the father of Mark Linkous, of Sparklehorse. That is all.
posted by emelenjr at 4:12 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Barnes & Noble is basically the only NEW book store in Hawaii with only 1 store for the entire state of Hawaii. I will no longer support them with this firing of full-time employees with no warning. I get it you are losing money, and want to survive. At the end it's principles and obviously B&N has none. No reason to support a company who can't support its employees.
posted by hawaiitron at 4:13 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I lived in Santa Barbara in the 90s, and I was a dedicated Earthling customer,

Funnily enough, I lived in San Luis Obispo in the 90s and the arrival of Earthling heralded the first round of the Great Indie Bookstore Cull.

By the time Barnes and Noble took over the old Earthling space the indies that managed to survive had already learned how to live in the shadows of giants…
posted by murphy slaw at 4:17 PM on February 15


Gaaaaah, I don't want there to be no more physical bookstores any more. When/if this one goes down...fuuuuuuuuuuuck.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:20 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


The hiring of a former dietary supplement salesman as their new merchandising manager says volumes about their future plans. That guy looks like a future #metoo story subject.

When this one goes down, there will be a renaissance of independents. Don't fear the reaper.
posted by Stanczyk at 4:24 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


My life has improved enormously as a result of books dying out. They were sacred objects to me growing up, but now they're mostly a nuisance, and I only keep a few around for sentimental reasons. I can find practically anything I want to read in an instant, and to do so I only have to lug my phone and laptop around. Barnes & Noble are an anachronism, and it's surprising to me that they've lasted as long as they have.
posted by Coventry at 4:31 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


BN has fallen into the same trap: it decided that everything that distracted the customers from buying was a detriment, so it cut back on lounging areas and kid-friendly areas.

Something else that I'd like to mention. (Before I begin, I'd like to frame this by saying that I truly sympathize with the people in this thread who used to work in a bookstore, particularly those who have lost their B&N jobs recently. I think that a lot of people went to work in bookstores for many of the same reasons that I became a librarian.) There was a post recently on Tumblr that said that Amazon killed the independent bookstore, and I replied that, no, that was leaving out the influence of big book chains such as Borders and B&N. I can't remember exactly when the articles about the Cool New Bookstores began appearing, but all of a sudden it seemed like everyone was talking about the comfy chairs and the attached coffeeshop and how you could just sit and read a book and there was no pressure to buy.

Comparisons to public libraries--no food or drink allowed, had to wait for a best-seller, and implicitly not as "nice" because of you-know-who hanging around--were in fact made. Your taxes didn't go to B&N, see. And although many public libraries pivoted, others closed or cut back their hours. And when Borders closed, a lot of the comfy chairs seemed to disappear from B&N.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:35 PM on February 15 [16 favorites]


Haven't been to a B&N in ten years and Amazon has nothing to do with it. It's just that B&N made some decisions that ruined the shopping experience for me, letting high school kids study in their stores, people sitting in the aisles, everyone roughly thumbing through every book, so I was paying new book prices for books that weren't close to being in new condition, cashiers creepily commenting on every book I purchased in order to create a false sense of familiarity, and even seeing people gulp down fast food at reading tables. It just became seriously not fun to make the extra trip to buy books retail, so I stopped.

And Amazon is probably less than five to ten years away from most Americans getting same day delivery on books, fast food, groceries, and everything else the average pod creature needs to exist, so B&N's demise (along with every other retail outlet is inevitable)
posted by Beholder at 4:52 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


The thing that just floors me here are the bonuses - this is a company that's losing money. It is failing. Its executives are failures. If you're a shareholder, you should be in open revolt and removing the board for structuring contract after contract in such a way that an executive gets a bonus while fucking up your share value and the company's profit. Capitalism at its core is not only immoral, it's also fucking stupid.
posted by notorious medium at 5:02 PM on February 15 [34 favorites]


This story reminds me of the corporate raiders in the 80s that came in and took all the money out of the logging industry. Paying themselves millions while systematically selling off all the assets and telling their employees it was everyone else's fault. Those towns still haven't recovered.
posted by fshgrl at 5:15 PM on February 15 [10 favorites]


I don’t know if I can bear going to my local Barnes and Noble knowing that the people I’ve seen working there for 10+ years are all likely to be gone. And knowing what happened to them.
posted by edheil at 5:17 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


i can't believe there's people here who haven't figured out that late stage capitalism = cancer, but then again, there is someone born every day who hasn't seen the flintstones
posted by entropicamericana at 5:21 PM on February 15 [8 favorites]


My life has improved enormously as a result of books dying out.

That comment is like the people who tell me that I'm dumb for wanting a joint and that I should vape instead. How about both.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:23 PM on February 15 [18 favorites]


The stuff that got done to the employees was actually scum level awful. But it is a little weird to see people mourning the loss of B&N as the loss of meaningful bookstores, when I still remember being in high school and people mourning the loss of "real bookstores" to B&N and Borders. The change was probably inevitable, and I tend to feel like communities are better served by more libraries and than more big chain bookstores, and this sort of thing happens with companies all the time. But the employees? The employees don't get choices about that stuff. And because of the completely obscene way that employment law in the US has turned out, employment, the area in which people have very little choice about where they end up, suddenly it is completely okay for the more powerful party in the transaction to outright lie to their staff in order to induce them not to look for other work, and then to pull this sort of thing. I'd be happy to see capitalism go, generally, but at-will employment needs to go in particular, it's disgusting.
posted by Sequence at 5:38 PM on February 15 [11 favorites]


Boardgamers at least are somewhat happy to see chain retailers step in. Currently there's no specialty nationwide retail franchise dedicated to boardgames.

Game stores are dying everywhere. Customers love a place to play, but they order online to save money. That's obviously not a successful business model. I'm genuinely surprised game stores don't abandon retail entirely and simply rent tables and sell snacks.

And there's nothing that can save retail books. We already have one full generation who grew up without ever visiting a bookstore or a video rental store, and we're now working on generation number two. It's dead Jim.
posted by Beholder at 5:39 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


That comment is like the people who tell me that I'm dumb for wanting a joint and that I should vape instead. How about both.

You do you, but rolling a joint takes no resources, whereas the bookstore experience burns significant capital for largely sentimental reasons.
posted by Coventry at 5:46 PM on February 15


I always believe in naming names.
Here is the Board of Barnes and Noble; Key Executives and the rewards they reaped.
posted by adamvasco at 5:46 PM on February 15 [9 favorites]


whereas the bookstore experience burns significant capital for largely sentimental reasons.

Dude, where did the bookstore hurt you?
posted by Stanczyk at 5:48 PM on February 15 [31 favorites]


>> The executives deciding a company isn’t making money fast enough and stripping the copper out of it while firing career employees and setting the entire enterprise out to fail is class war.

> And has been going on since the 1980s at least -- for crying out loud, it was half the plot of Pretty Woman, and the Gere character proved he was a good guy after all by deciding to run the company instead of picking the carcass clean.

Gere was a corporate raider who was buying a company to strip it. If he borrowed the money to buy it with risky (junk) bonds it would be an Leveraged Buy Out (LBO). Since he "owned" the company, he could strip its assets, though I think the way these things worked was that the raider only bought a major of voting shares then made so much that settling suits with minority shareholders was just a minor tax.

The idiots driving B&N into the ground are professional managers, hired by the owners (stockholders, represented by the board of directors) to run it well. They're paid well so they don't embezzle. There was a great article in the New Yorker (that I can't find right now dammit) about the history of sole proprietorships and partnerships run by the owners giving way to professional managers who just stole every damned thing until checks and balances and better pay were tried.

I'm tempted to buy a little BKS so I can join the shareholder lawsuit and get a 13 cent check 10 years after they fold. It'll be 13 cents because the plaintiff's lawyers will settle early. What we see as B&N management idiocy will have some internally-consistent logic that true believers or grifters can explain with charts and graphs while wearing nice suits. They had to cut Christmastime payroll to preserve enough operating capital for blah blah ad nauseam... They aren't an airline selling all of it's planes. They'll find someone who can explain with a straight face that experienced booksellers who can do more than point out where the latest E.L. James book is are only valued by the 5% of resource-intensive "bad" customers.
posted by ASCII Costanza head at 5:57 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Here is the Board of Barnes and Noble; Key Executives and the rewards they reaped.

Lenny Riggio, who bought up B&N in 1971 when it was on the brink of extinction, received an average $230,000 in compensation from 2013 to 2016, whereupon he stepped down as Chief Executive Officer. In 2017, however, he received over a million dollars (in addition to being the largest shareholder in the company, of course). He's obviously preparing to sell off the business, as investors have been urging, but before he does, as Chairman of the Board he's getting paid.
posted by Doktor Zed at 6:03 PM on February 15


God, I never expected to get this old. I never expected to become one of those eccentric crotchety old folks who just weren't willing to tolerate major aspects of what the world has changed into.

We once had an amazing selection of bookstores in my metro of over a million. Now we have five B&N's, four (great) used, half-a dozen Christian, and one new-age shop. If the B&N's go, the best place for new books will be inside the airport.

The thing is, I won't, under any circumstances, order books online. Physical, ebooks, audio, doesn't matter. I don't understand people who do: I think they're a little bit crazy, like free-climbers, or people who browse the web without tracking protection and a VPN.

Brick-and-mortar stores aren't just the only place to buy books in person, they're the only place to buy books for cash. Anonymously.

Why in the world would anyone let data vendors buy and sell a detailed list of what they read? That's like letting the massive industry of commercial busybodies right inside your head. I'd rather install a webcam in my bedroom. Hasn't anyone heard of Cambridge Analytica? Are "data science" and "predictive analytics" still obscure terms, despite (mis)shaping our world?

Fortunately, I trust my librarian, and his warrant canary. Neither of us is completely certain about the countywide circulation system. But OCLC is as bad as anything Bezos cooked up. If B&N closes, will we actually reach a point where there are books I can't read without telling the whole world I've done so? Or that fraction of the world that cares to spend a fraction of a cent each to find out?

There are authors I love on MeFi, and I hate the idea of not buying everything they put out. But if physical bookstores die in this town altogether, I'm going to be lost. Books I can't give away or pass down are bad enough. Books I can't read without spending my privacy? Intolerable. And I won't tolerate it, bad though I'll feel: Hoist the jolly roger and see if I can find a postal address to drop some nice, anonymous currency in the mail
posted by CHoldredge at 6:15 PM on February 15 [19 favorites]


Capitalism at its core is not only immoral, it's also fucking stupid.
I've given up anthropomorphizing capitalism. Capitalism is just a system of trade that is neither good nor evil on its own. There are pros and cons to all economic systems. The evil creeps in when companies, whether government-controlled, privately or communally owned, are allowed to do evil things and are never punished by the society in which they get the benefits of operating in. So long as you live in a society that reigns in the worst impulses of people with regulation and punishment for bad acts that do harm, I don't think it particularly matters which system is employed. (If you think that profit sharing/employee ownership is some kind of panacea for the evils of "late-stage capitalism" as it is referred to here and elsewhere, dig through some OSHA filings sometime. You'll find plenty of employee owned profit sharing operations where workers were put at risk in order to increase THEIR OWN profit share! As in, workers were endangering themselves and, therefore, others to make more money.)

In short: People suck and require impartial babysitters.
posted by xyzzy at 6:33 PM on February 15 [10 favorites]


If B&N closes, will we actually reach a point where there are books I can't read without telling the whole world I've done so?

I'm sure most of them will show up on sites like Library Genesis, which you can access via Tor without showing up on corporate security footage.
posted by Coventry at 6:38 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


I'm sure most of them will show up on sites like Library Genesis, which you can access via Tor without showing up on corporate security footage.

You know there are thousands of authors whose families depend on the revenue from their written work, like a job. Wouldn't that hurt them?
posted by Stanczyk at 6:44 PM on February 15 [9 favorites]


My life has improved enormously as a result of books dying out.

“I don’t even have a book.”
posted by octobersurprise at 6:45 PM on February 15 [15 favorites]


My husband and I met 25 years ago working at a Barnes and Noble in Evanston.

This is another very common story in the bookstore world. I met my husband when we were both working at our local college chain bookstore. We were one of at least a half-dozen couples we know of who got together there—there's something about the people you meet in that setting, people who really love and have deep knowledge of books, comics, music, movies, games, periodicals, etc. Some of my best friends are people we met there, beautifully intelligent geeks with an amazing breadth of knowledge. There's a reason people work in that part of the publishing industry, even still, surrounding themselves with books.

After a detour through some other jobs and going back to school, my husband works there again part-time, because he knows and loves the people there and he's an expert in books and their other merchandise after having been a manager there previously. But he's definitely on this shift-work treadmill I described a day ago. Like B&N, in the past few years, his chain has also systematically let go full-time employees, cut employees in receiving, reduced individuals' part-time hours, removed benefits for full-timers, etc. and moved to obscure online ordering systems that force employees of individual stores to do more work without tangible benefit to the store's bottom line.

We also have a friend and a family member who my husband had known separately who met each other and became friends while working for B&N corporate in New York, doing design and editorial work (not corporate raiding). Neither works there now—they both saw the writing on the wall and got out while they could. The former editor went and opened a wine shop. The former designer there works in product design elsewhere. They're both real human beings who care deeply about their craft and about customer service who could no longer do those things while working for B&N. I don't know for sure, but I think they both might have worked there for life if they could have. But things changed.

I feel for everyone in this thread who's been affected by these changes. And I really wish there were a way to punish these corporate-raider CEOs directly. Those levels of compensation for running the chain into the ground are just unconscionable. While B&N obviously has problems and challenges, those issues aren't the fault of the rank-and-file folks who are working extremely hard every day just to keep the shelves stocked and orders going out while providing actual customer service. Boycotting them only hurts the employees more. Maybe it seems like a foregone conclusion that to work for a bookstore in this day and age is an exercise in masochism and eventual defeat. But it shouldn't have to be that way.
posted by limeonaire at 6:46 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


I keep thinking of Tom Hanks' giant book megastore forcing indie kid's bookstore owner Meg Ryan out of business in "You've Got Mail;" now, we'll see the sequel in which lean online book retailer forces Tom's store to close, while Meg secretly cackles into her daisies...
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:56 PM on February 15 [10 favorites]


You know there are thousands of authors whose families depend on the revenue from their written work, like a job. Wouldn't that hurt them?

Yes. They're already being hurt by it. The enabling technology isn't going away, though, and copyright can't be effectively enforced without draconian monitoring, so people who want to make money from writing are going to have to find different approaches.
posted by Coventry at 6:56 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


pwnguin: "there's been a concerted effort the past year or so to monopolize board games. A private equity firm has been buying up basically every US publisher and snapping up rights to evergreen titles like Catan."

That sounds like it should be a FPP, pwnguin! I had not heard about this.
posted by tavella at 6:59 PM on February 15 [9 favorites]


Copyright isn't a new thing. How it's enforced isn't a binary. There are ways of encouraging a respect for an author's rights without impeding culture.
posted by Stanczyk at 6:59 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I never bought much from B&N because I've never lived near one. But I used to shop at their subsidiary B. Dalton, until all those stores were shut down ten years ago. My other option was a small, regional book chain that went completely out of business just last month. That's where I'm at.
posted by riruro at 7:01 PM on February 15


You know there are thousands of authors whose families depend on the revenue from their written work, like a job. Wouldn't that hurt them?

Most of these authors have ways up for people to donate to them, and even at 50% it is more significant than the royalties they get from Amazon.
posted by corb at 7:04 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


Most? Citation please?
posted by Stanczyk at 7:06 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Well, the authors I read via ebook, at least, have tip jars or some such up. This may not be the case outside of SF/F.
posted by corb at 7:09 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


I agree that genre fiction might be different, but that doesn't significantly represent "authors".
posted by Stanczyk at 7:12 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I'm sure the author of that piece has some good points, but B&N has been obviously doomed for some time. I published a book that I sell for exactly the same price on both bn.com and amazon.com. Our bn ebook sales volumes are *less than 1%* of our Amazon ebook sales volumes. I don't have direct access to hard copy sales numbers broken down by each retailer, but I suspect they're very similar given that Amazon hard copy sales dwarf all other hard copy sales put together.
posted by phoenixy at 7:28 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


What saddens me most about all of this is that before B&N was merely a credible Borders competitor in the super-mass-market class, they were one of New York City's great bookstores. I have vivid memories of my grandmother taking me to the Fifth Ave and 18th Street store to buy science fiction (some for her, some for me).

What's getting sucked down the drain in the bitter endgame of management's failed growth-hacking isn't just a national brand, and it isn't even just the place where thousands of dedicated workers bent over backwards to share their love of books and reading. It's a bit of NYC history every bit as idiosyncratic and special as CBGB or the Carnegie Deli.


Even into the mid 90s Barnes & Noble was still a very nice place to buy books. It got much worse not long after they started the whole Nook thing. I actually preferred it to the Kindle.

In the city I went to high school in the book purchasing options were very, very early Amazon and other online retailers, the mass market paperback shelf at the grocery store or Walmart, a very nifty, if cramped (and still in business!) used bookstore which was great for the sort of books I didn't read a lot of at that time, Waldenbooks at the mall, and the relatively new Barnes & Noble. Oh, and the waaay overpriced campus bookstore at the local university.

Point is that in a lot of places B&N was by far the best new book retailer they'd ever seen. Even now that is true in many small cities despite B&N's obvious decline.
posted by wierdo at 7:29 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


people who want to make money from writing are going to have to find different approaches.

So, Coventry, you're glad that books are dying, you think that bookstores are ridiculous and inefficient, and now, surprise, surprise, you're callous about the livelihoods of writers? But what are you going to disrupt next?

Perhaps schools ought to no longer teach the dying arts of reading and writing? Perhaps we ought to let go of our outmoded attachment to the alphabet and simply communicate through emojis? Or, let's be real, perhaps we humans ourselves, with all our irrational emotions and messy desires, ought to stand aside as the ancient relics we are and allow the pure, cool rationality of algorithms to arrange the world into the most perfect, most efficient patterns?
posted by overglow at 7:45 PM on February 15 [18 favorites]


I was volunteering to micro-mentor a teenager a little while back. She'd been homeless, her mother had just died, she went to the worst school in the city- she had it rough. I took her to a Barnes and Noble. She had never been to a book store before in her life. Watching her experience the space for the first time made me feel like Willy Wonka. I could see her brain trying to process the bounty and quickly realizing it was a place of pure potential and opportunity.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 7:54 PM on February 15 [29 favorites]


I've contributed nothing to this disruption, and as for my future plans, I'll probably die of cancer or in the next total war. I was describing the world we live in and how I've adapted to it.
posted by Coventry at 7:55 PM on February 15


That is not an accurate description of the world you live in and I would encourage you to thoughtfully rage against that perspective. As long as there are people there is hope. Don't surrender to the algorithms.
posted by Stanczyk at 8:04 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


Imagine if Amazon were actually just poorly organized warehouses where you have to pick all your own goods, then wait in line to clear them, then drive them home yourself.

So, the New England Mobile Book Fair, then?
posted by wenestvedt at 8:06 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


It just chaps me that B&N lasted longer than Borders, because Borders was so much better and treated their employees better (for a retail-worker value of "better").

Once upon a time, there was an amazing indie bookstore in Toledo called Thackeray's. The staff was passionate and knowledgeable, the selection was well curated, they offered storytime and release parties and author visits. Local authors were spotlighted, and the party they threw for Millie Benson when she finally outed herself as the original Carolyn Keene was EPIC.

The thing is, Thackeray's had always had their inventory supplied by Borders. There was an agreement that Borders would not open in Toledo "for as long as possible".

Then Franklin Park Mall expanded and Borders couldn't resist and Thackeray's closed after 22 years of being an amazing bookstore. Borders hired the entire Thackeray's staff...but none of them stayed. Borders was never the warm, cozy place that Thackeray's had been.

Now they're both gone. B&N never did it for me. I love John R. King Used Books in Detroit, but it's huge and cold - literally. It's a warehouse - and it's an hour away. Books-A-Million is a complete trashfire, they grind up employees and sweep them out quickly.

I miss good bookstores. I hope the entire executive management of B&N bursts into flames.
posted by MissySedai at 8:13 PM on February 15 [10 favorites]


About a year ago, Amazon opened an actual bookstore at Legacy Place in Dedham, Mass. It's not quite the size of an old B. Dalton's (but with more contemporary shelves and benches), so the selection is nowhere near as big as the B&N further down Rte. 1 in Walpole. But when the B&N closes (as seems inevitable, I guess), it'll be the only general-interest bookstore for not just a large swath of suburbia, but for basically the southern third of Boston, which is now reduced to just one bookstore- the Lucy Parsons Center, a small bookshop for radicals (in JP, like you'd expect) that is staffed by volunteers and so has irregular hours and a somewhat narrow range of books (OK, the Hallmark store in West Roxbury has a book area for best sellers and local-interest stuff).
posted by adamg at 8:13 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I always believe in naming names.
Here is the Board of Barnes and Noble; Key Executives and the rewards they reaped.


Thank you. The story here is not "Welp, nobody's buying books any more." Seriously, RTFA. Barnes and Noble did $953 million in sales for the holiday period alone. That's a lot of books.

The story is those names and their predecessors, who collected six to seven figure salaries despite saddling the company with a colossal amount of debt from the Nook (*), the spinoff of the highly profitable college books division, the walls of unsellable CDs and DVDs you still see at most stores, and other shitty decisions. Those names got paid and the people who sold the books got scraps. According to TFA, those names are now taking specific steps to dismantle the stores for a quick profit.

What happens next will be caused by decisions that were made by people, not the blameless march of time and media consumption habits. Don't let those names off the hook.

(*) See, for example: "For the full year, Retail generated operating income of $90.7 million, while NOOK incurred an operating loss of $36.4 million, for a total operating income of $54.3 million."
posted by chimpsonfilm at 8:27 PM on February 15 [16 favorites]


I guess us booklovers just aren't as smart as those who have adapted to the modern world then.

/me faints
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:29 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


> cstross:
"Is there something specifically toxic about B&N's ownership structure that causes their executive team to despair—or that selects only asset-stripping shitweasels for the C-suite—or could it be turned around by a takeover?"

Given what I have read (and my native cynicism), I see it as the upper managment panic -pillaging before the shareholders get too worried to get theirs.
posted by Samizdata at 8:35 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


I guess us booklovers just aren't as smart as those who have adapted to the modern world then.

I regret that I came off as arrogant.
posted by Coventry at 8:38 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


> emjaybee:
"I would love to see a real Borders-type store (indie is fine!) in my area that managed to recapture that place-to-hang-out-and-find-cool-stuff magic our old store had."

We had one, indie even. Until the owner sold it to the employees. We went from a place where my wife had to give me a book allowance to avoid bankruptcy to my last visit with me yawning and leaving bookless. Uncle Harle's Budget Romance Warehouse is not my thing.
posted by Samizdata at 8:41 PM on February 15


And they would have sold even more over the holidays if they hadn't left a huge chunk of their holiday inventory buried in boxes while shelves sat empty because home office thought cutting warehouse staff payroll was the best way to boost profit margins in the fourth quarter.

There are stories in the links from sales staff, about actual customers coming in to buy calendars, saying here, take my money for an item that any self-respecting bookstore is crammed with this time of year, and having to turn those customers and their money and add-on sales and repeat business away because all the calendars were in a warehouse somewhere.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:29 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


> curiousgene:
"I lived in Santa Barbara in the 90s, and I was a dedicated Earthling customer, until Borders and B&N drove them out of business. I preferred Borders to B&N, but then they went under, too. My kids now love going to B&N, but mostly because it's where books are. Any bookstore will do for them. I'm lucky to live in the San Fernando Valley, because there are indie bookstores and used bookstores that I can go to. I fear for people who will be left with nothing but Walmart and public libraries that are being starved for funding and can't buy books."

I was having a great time reading the thread, and remembering the (unforgivable) number of hours I spent camping out at Earthling (late 80's) with the cats, and the fire place, and the St. George mural (legacy of a legal battle they had had) and all the good Spec Fic books and I was going to wax lyrical.

Then I saw your comment.

And it ALL went away.
posted by Samizdata at 9:38 PM on February 15


> nothing as something as one:

Sorry to hear about losing your job. That is, in fact, so far past complete bullshit that the light from complete bullshit won't reach it for thousands of years.
posted by Samizdata at 9:42 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


Seriously, RTFA.

I had not, and having done so I can see how my first comment might have come across as dancing on the graves of the employees harmed by B&N's mismanagement. Apologies to anyone I caused disturbance to.
posted by Coventry at 9:44 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


> Beholder:
And Amazon is probably less than five to ten years away from most Americans getting same day delivery on books, fast food, groceries, and everything else the average pod creature needs to exist, so B&N's demise (along with every other retail outlet is inevitable)"

Yeah, no. I had some gift card credit (for a non-received item) so I snagged some SATA cables. I decided to blow my Prime trial (as spending $8 on a $5 item kind of sucks), and, oh, jalapeno beef jerky sounds like a treat!

But, alas and alack, no. I can only get that as an addon item on a $25 or more sale. Which is completely horseshit, IMO. So now I am stuck with like $7 of store credit (because I bought a Kindle book to make me feel better), which is pretty much too small for anything BUT Kindle books.
posted by Samizdata at 9:52 PM on February 15


> Annika Cicada:
"That comment is like the people who tell me that I'm dumb for wanting a joint and that I should vape instead. How about both."

What's your address again? I can bring cookies.
posted by Samizdata at 9:54 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Well, now we know also know why a staffer couldn't find a NYT bestselling book on the shelf even though it said it was in stock. My husband had to drive to another location.

I'm so frustrated that a company can just NOT care about employees to that level.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:55 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Game stores are dying everywhere. Customers love a place to play, but they order online to save money. That's obviously not a successful business model. I'm genuinely surprised game stores don't abandon retail entirely and simply rent tables and sell snacks.

There's a growing niche of game cafes which essentially do this.

There's a couple of reasons existing game stores don't convert. First off, a lot of game stores are getting by with MtG. For all the anger at PC gaming loot boxes, this gambling cocaine shit was pioneered decades ago by Wizards. Secondly, many hobby stores are essentially run by hobbyists to support their addiction, rather than professionals seeking to keep adapting. Thirdly, they don't have a lot of assets to make the transition with. The staff isn't skilled in food service, their location strategy is to lease the cheapest space in town and hope their customers find them, their existing teenage customer base is not easily converted to coffee and beer sales (and frankly toxic to their casual customers), and their brands generally have a stigma about all of the above.

In a way, those problems kinda the mirror image of the problems Borders and B&N had in introducing coffee shops to their suburban box stores. Their locations are too good, too big and too expensive. Their customers largely would prefer not to lounge around all afternoon, but continue shopping at the store next door. They overexpanded, and while the location diversification insulated them from local economic swings, other models of retailing ate their lunch. Their national size means they have access to debt financing, but that also increases risk. You'd probably have an easier time as a coffee shop pivoting to a games niche.
posted by pwnguin at 11:51 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


My life has improved enormously as a result of books dying out.

Well bully for you, Captain Disrupto. Seriously, this might be the most shortsighted and ignorant comment I’ve ever seen on MetaFilter.

PS Books are far from “dying out,” buddy. As I seem to recall, the sales figures for actual, printed books have gone up in each of the past three years. What is being killed off is a retail distribution channel – one, as anyone equipped with the normal complement of empathy would note, has an outsize claim on the hearts of those who grew up with it. tl;dr? Learn to read the room and leave your performative cynicism at the door.
posted by adamgreenfield at 12:06 AM on February 16 [25 favorites]


Bookselling has never been a get-rich job, and mostly not a get-comfortable job. At its best, it's a not-lose-money venture, and it's facing a whole lot of competition for potential customers, of types that didn't exist a few decades ago.

I feel that just like Borders, the problem is being a publicly traded company. It's a business that can make money, it's just not a business that's going to make those people happy.

This is making me sad. Bookstores have always been a big part of our lives. Borders was a big part of our lives, B&N was a second runner. But since Borders went away B&N has been the place. I like my Nooks. All of them. I want the new one. But I want bookstores too. I have more books than I will ever read, so that's not a problem, so we buy things at bookstores just to pay our way for hanging out and browsing.

There really is an atmosphere and camaraderie among people who work in bookstores. It's really sad about those layoffs.

If I were a bookseller now, and customers came in, browsed, then stood there ordering from Amazon, on their phone


All day long. Such a dishonest, weird thing to do.

I haven't done any business with Amazon in years and won't.
posted by bongo_x at 12:11 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


...has an outsize claim on the hearts of those who grew up with it

Thanks for pointing that out, and again, apologies.
posted by Coventry at 1:03 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Privacy concerns are both valid and worrisome. I can see an opportunity here for a brick and mortar specializing in books (alcoholism, depression, etc) that you might not want corporate America knowing you own.
posted by Beholder at 1:12 AM on February 16


This sucks. Other people have said it far more eloquently than me, but I'm super sad and sorry for the employees who got fired for basically nothing.

I'd still go to Half Price Books if I could but the only one in Seattle—in the University District—closed a year ago and its building sits empty and forlorn, the parking lot being rented out by one of those scavenger paid parking lot companies.

The kicker is, I really like the B&N at Northgate Mall. It's bright, open, two-level, has lots of chairs, got remodeled about a year ago to open up the lower level sales floor, and almost always has exactly what I'm looking for. But the last time I went there, on the 12th (sadly), I noticed a complete dearth of employees. Except for one cashier, one person roving the top floor, and the two people in the cafe area, it seemed like there was no one manning the store. I guess that's more true than I know.

Frankly, I'm still more than a little shocked that they have three(!) locations inside Seattle (Northgate, downtown Pacific Place, and Westwood Village), given this news. There is a lot of competition from medium-sized independent stores that sell books and Third Place has two decent-sized stores with food places attached. I wonder how long they'll last, especially in downtown.

I hope that cstross' story can be repeated with B&N and they keep going under the reigns of a leadership team that cares about the business and not just asset stripping it. Going private might help instead of being a publicly-listed company.
posted by fireoyster at 1:48 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


My town will still have a Books-a-Million, but the next biggest stores are all Christian bookstores. I'll bet B&N closing will leave only Christian bookstores in some places.
posted by heatvision at 3:23 AM on February 16


This thread convinced me to go out and buy some books.
posted by kyrademon at 3:53 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


I work in a sector of print publishing whose Barnes & Noble sales are disproportionately important. My sinking feeling is that medium-term we're (my sector, specifically) is probably fucked.

Hardly anybody in this thread is saying this, but to the notion that it's all going digital anyway: Ebook sales have plateaued over the past three years and it's clear the bulk of consumer demand for books is a) still there and b) mostly in print. People still buy, and prefer buying, books. The question remains how they find and where they buy those books.

My corner of publishing skews young and gets a lot out of in-person discoverability—it's the aisle where you see the teens slouching around. When B&N sales start suffering as a result of this bullshit stripping-for-parts, we're going to feel it immediately. And if (when?) B&N goes under, I honestly don't know if "selling books through Amazon" is a viable business proposition for an imprint like the one I work for.

Anybody want to hire a 39-year-old javascript noodler with strong opinions about literary translation workflow? Sigh.
posted by Sokka shot first at 4:23 AM on February 16 [9 favorites]


I feel that just like Borders, the problem is being a publicly traded company.

Right. Once you're publicly traded, it's not longer enough to make money. You have to make all the money.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:37 AM on February 16 [8 favorites]


What is being killed off is a retail distribution channel – one, as anyone equipped with the normal complement of empathy would note, has an outsize claim on the hearts of those who grew up with it. tl;dr?

Well, some of the people who grew up with it, or the minority of people who grew up somewhere where they happened to have their needs met well. I think people who happened to grow up around Powell's or Earthling or even with a Half-Price around underestimate the number of people whose access to books before the late 1990s was Waldenbooks or B. Dalton in the mall, and maybe a local/independent that's mostly an expression of the owner's idiosyncracies.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:52 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


I am reminded by this thread of a hole-in-the-wall used bookstore tucked in the corner of a local suburban strip mall.

And that it's been far too long since I've been there.
posted by delfin at 5:16 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


and I still compulsively neaten shelves, thanks to my years at B. Dalton

I worked for Borders for 14 years in various capacities, so I have a lot of ex-BGI friends and acquaintances. When they post pictures of bookshelves (as we people tend to do), the spines are still frequently flush with the outside edge of the shelf, the old Borders merchandising standard.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:29 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Not an in-person replacement, but Better World Books is pretty good for online book needs.

True, but strictly used, so less valuable to the authors.
posted by BWA at 6:05 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


people whose access to books before the late 1990s was Waldenbooks or B. Dalton in the mall, and maybe a local/independent that's mostly an expression of the owner's idiosyncracies

This was me. Growing up we had the library, and a cramped and baffling little place that mostly served as its owner's dragon-style book hoard (and was organised accordingly; most things weren't even shelved, just piled). The first time I visited family who took me to a Waldenbooks, I was maybe seven, and it blew my mind; I couldn't believe such places existed. I treasured the little branded cardboard bookmark they tucked into our purchase. When I first visited the new Barnes and Noble in the new mall near my home, I honestly lost my breath a bit and thought, 'this is actually heaven.'
posted by halation at 6:50 AM on February 16 [13 favorites]


A long long time ago, I was manager for a B. Dalton, which had just been acquired by B&N. I still use that retail managerial experience as a negative example of what to never do, how not to treat staff and customers, and how to throw away money hand over fist. The B&N vs. Borders battle for market share in the age of Amazon shows how big box brick and morter bookstores stores would have to be at the top of their game to compete with the scale of Amazon, so this news isn't very shocking; I'm surprised that B&N survived till 2018.
posted by mfoight at 7:06 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


A new Barnes & Noble, complete with the restaurant concept, opened early last year in my town -- in the long-empty Borders space, naturally. Quite a few people we know regularly host dinner parties and ladies-who-lunch-lunches there -- I went to one of the dinner parties and it was a pretty nice set-up, with a big indoor dining area and a nice outdoor patio. Reviews for the food and setting are decent.

I completely sympathize with the article-writer's sadness for the loss of jobs of dedicated employees, but she's pretty ham-handed in her analysis of the corporate rationale. If they were trying to juice the company's books they would have moved heaven and earth to drive fourth quarter sales up, not to generate cash through an intentional reduction in staffing below advisable levels at the cost of fourth quarter sales. The company's cash levels have been pretty static over a several quarters and it has meaningful access to cash under its credit facility as well as through the ability to rescind the quarterly dividend. Also, the business case she seems to take as a given for full-time career retail labor is not strong. Most successful retail chains are almost entirely part-time on the registers, selling floor and stock room, including those with complex merchandising. A lot of the successful chains that have significant full-time career labor do so not by choice but by union contract or union organizer pressure. It only really starts to be compelling for merchants of things that are (as they say) "sold, not bought" and you need skilled salespeople to close deals.
posted by MattD at 7:30 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


The older I get, the more I worry that the things I love won't last my time.
posted by JanetLand at 7:36 AM on February 16 [7 favorites]


we're all living proof nothing lasts
posted by entropicamericana at 8:06 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Indigo, Canada's B&N (which runs Chapters, Coles and Indigo stores) has been talking about a US expansion for a few years now. Sounds like they plan to start this summer.

I would not be surprised if Indigo's "cultural department stores" start opening up in the abandoned B&N locations. And, honestly, the concept isn't the worst--they've created these little mini-shops where you go to, say, the "space" section, and there's a bunch of S'well water bottles with constellations printed on them, and maybe a large wall-hanging with a galaxy, and a stack of the latest Neil deGrasse Tyson books and an Ann Leckie or whatever the latest sf novel to be made into a Netflix series is. There's the normal bookstore shelves and whatnot tucked upstairs, but the first floor is all these little shops. It might not be great for people who want to buy the latest book in their favourite series, but let's be honest: those people are buying Kindle books, and if they aren't it's because their ideological purity sends them to indies. The new Indigos are bookstores for browsers and gift-shoppers.

I hope that they expand so that these cities have bookstores again, and I hope that they can hire some of the talented booksellers who have lost their B&N jobs.
posted by AmandaA at 8:23 AM on February 16 [7 favorites]


we're all living proof nothing lasts
posted by entropicamericana at 8:06 AM on February 16 [+] [!]

I want to drop an "eponysterical" but that implies it's hilarious and sigh it's all just not
posted by alleycat01 at 8:25 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Gotta say, that Indigo concept actually sounds kind of appealing. These days, I'm a person who buys books mainly on recommendation or by tracking new releases from favourite authors, but that curated "gallery" aesthetic would probably do a good job of getting me to actually browse for stuff.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:36 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


I've been reading a lot in French recently and discovered the Canadian website leslibraires.ca ("the booksellers," the website is entirely in French as it's focused exclusively on books in French).

It's a consortium of 100+ independent French-language bookstores, mostly in Quebec but also some in Ontario and New Brunswick. The website sells both physical books and ebooks -- in either case, you choose the bookstore that will fulfill your order. For ebooks (which is the only thing that I have been buying, to be honest, since I'm located very far from these physical stores) I assume this means that the profits from that book go to the bookstore you've chosen, as the download is obviously immediate.

The website also offers you the ability to check which stores have it in stock and the quantity, which is very handy if you wanted to go in person to check the book out. (I take the stock numbers with the same grain of salt as I take any stock numbers available online, but still.)

It seems like a pretty interesting/successful venture and I wonder if any kind of analogous venture could be made for independent English-language bookstores, though the biggest caveat would be pricing: I've noticed that pricing for French-language books is uniform across that website, Renaud-Bray (largest French-language bookstore in North America) and Amazon Canada, so I wonder if there are book pricing laws in play. Given that book prices aren't regulated at all in the US that would seem like a huge hurdle to clear.

And the North American French market is of course way, way smaller than the North American English market (it's just a bit bigger than the population of NYC).

But I still think it's pretty cool!
posted by andrewesque at 8:40 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


It goes without saying that the vulture capitalists who have made the decision to drive B&N into the ground to facilitate stripping it of any money they can are absolutely vile.

But, I do think there's a certain inevitability in the ongoing failure of physical stores in the face of Amazon. The problem of moving stuff around, and especially finding the stuff you want, has changed significantly and not in a way that really makes going to a store, buying a product, and driving it home yourself a successful business model.

It's telling that Wal-Mart is feeling the pinch from Amazon, because Wal-Mart is basically the optimum efficiency physical store you can envision. And if they're losing out to Amazon then that tells us that the physical store model is doomed.

In a way we're moving back towards an older retail model. In the past customers didn't wander stores and pick their own goods. The customers would be waited on by a clerk (or the owner in a smaller store), who would show them products, extol the virtues of their products, and after the customer told them what they wanted would pack up the goods. Basically like Amazon does only without the people. Often the customer wouldn't take the product, but rather it would be delivered to them by a boy working for a pittance.

In my area the local grocery store chain is pushing, hard, a curbside pickup service and a home delivery service. Order online and don't spend your time wandering the store.

This is in no way meant to be a defense of the vile looters currently disassembling Barnes & Noble. But it is to say that even absent the capitalist looters that B&N was part of a way of doing business that doesn't seem likely to survive much longer.

My previous hometown, Amarillo TX, was home to a family owned regional entertainment chain (video, music, books) called Hastings. Those of you from the great plains states may recognize the name. I worked there for a time, in the corporate office, and bailed a year before the company was bought out by a looting firm, shut down, and stripped for parts. It was a serious blow to the economy of Amarillo, Hastings offices and warehouses accounted for around five hundred jobs, and in a town of only 200,000 or so a loss of 500 jobs all of a sudden hurts.

During my time at the corporate office a year or so before everything shut down there was a general sense of vague doom. Music sales were all but gone and shrinking rapidly, but to maintain even the tiny bit of sales they were making they had to keep the same floor space they'd used for music sales when they were worth it. Same for video. With the rise of Netflix, Hulu, Google Play, there just wasn't much of a market for rental and sale DVD's, and to maintain the tiny trickle of income they had to devote the same amount of floor space they had back when you could make real money selling and renting videos.

Books, toys, puzzles, and so forth were increasingly their only source of income, and that too was dropping off. Puzzles, toys, and other kiddie stuff were available elsewhere, and book sales were never the moneymaker that music and video had been.

I saw this from the purchasing side, working on the computers that handled automated orders from suppliers, and overhearing conversations from the video and music purchasing teams.

Mom and pop stores lost to the big chains, the big chains lost to Wal-Mart, and now everything is losing to Amazon.

I wonder if in the future we'll need to nationalize Amazon (or its replacement) simply due to retail having become a natural monopoly.
posted by sotonohito at 10:24 AM on February 16 [7 favorites]


Wal-Mart is feeling the pinch from Amazon ... if they're losing out to Amazon then that tells us that the physical store model is doomed.

No, it says that the physical store model needs to offer something more than "broad selection and low prices," because you can't beat Amazon for those. And when Amazon starts having problems, plenty of currently-squished competitors will rush to fill the mail-order market.

We may see a resurgence of mom-and-pop stores, local-run places with curators who know what local people want to buy without waiting for shipping, and what they're willing to pay full price for because they respect the people who run the place.

We may see themed shops tailored around grouped interests - "college supplies" shops with some computer gear, some paper, some books, some art supplies, some clothes - again, targeting both the "gotta have it now" market, and those who want to browse for related items. (Amazon is useless for, "you're buying four academic textbooks... you may be needing a backpack. Or some pens and post-its.")

We may see social-with-sales places: cafes that sell books and games along with coffee and snacks, and a jukebox-phone at every table so you can pay a buck or two to listen to music you like while you read, or you and your friends play cards.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:36 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]


Unlike most of the MeFi population, I live in a very small town west of rural Bumfuck. In other words, the two biggest retailers in town are the gas station/convenience store at the edge of town and our local grocery store. Neither are exactly a prime outlet for reading material. I am forty miles away from an indie store that responds to the local market and is filled with right wing fantasia, westerns, and romance books - I gave up on that one years ago. The county library is pretty much in the same state. A hundred miles in the other direction is a city with an indie store and a big ass Barnes/Noble. I try to buy at the indie store but they don't stock ANY SFF. B/N has the magazine selection of the gods and I can spend an hour just in that area. And their SFF section is...substantial.

I prefer to buy books on Amazon. Due to my wife's vision issues our house pretty much runs on ambient lighting "will you turn that reading lamp off, it's killing me!" So I read on the Kindle app or iBooks on my iPad. I prefer the printed page but I take the hit for my beloved. And though Amazon is vile, we depend on Prime out here in the hinterlands. We had to buy a medical device - it was almost $250 at the clinic - found it for $33 with Prime shipping. And if Amazon kills the WalHell forty miles down the road well bless Bezos for his important work.
posted by Ber at 11:47 AM on February 16 [6 favorites]


A new Barnes & Noble just opened up in my county. The planned development where I live was supposed to have one, but B&N backed out during the recession. Thanks to some clever zoning applications, the developer is now building a huge, gorgeous library in the same spot, which will be turned over to the county public library system. I'm much happier to have the library than B&N.
posted by candyland at 12:19 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Tangentially, I want to point something out which may not be readily apparent to most of you.

I grew up with books, and I adore them, but I can no longer read most of them, because my vision has deteriorated. I'm only 45, but I read everything on the Kindle app on my iPad because I can do things like:
  • Zoom the text
  • Adjust the backlight
  • Tap to look up a term
  • Tap to translate passages in languages I don't speak
  • Dig deeper into historical references with a direct link to Google and/or Wikipedia
There are hundreds of thousands of people living with disabilities who are able to continue enjoying "books" because of things like this, and that number is only going to grow as the population ages.

The real kicker to this is that I'm a writer, and as much as I love physical books, I can count the number of them I've bought in the past few years on two hands without using my thumbs. In the past ten years, I've purchased north of 300+ ebooks a year, and that number of liable only to increase.

Many, if not most, of those purchases would never have happened if I didn't have the option of ebooks. Large-print is still extremely limited by comparison.

In short, I am exactly the same kind of book-mad sentimentalist that most of you are, but I appear to have opinions diametrically opposed to those of most of you, in that I think ebooks are an unqualified good, and that legacy print publishing is, frankly, inefficient, dated as hell, and an active impediment to authors who want to expand their reach.

Things change. Sometimes they change fast and a lot, and I'm really disappointed in the amount of shortsightedness being demonstrated here because of sentimental attachment. And I say that as an enormously sentimental twit who has physical books on his shelf from the 1800s and dog-eared paperback copies of books from my childhood.
posted by scrump at 1:03 PM on February 16 [6 favorites]


Technically Amazon isn’t creating a monopoly, they are creating a monopsony. A monopoly refers to a single producer of a good, a monopsony is when there’s only one buyer. For publishers and manufacturers, Amazon is monopsony.
posted by Stanczyk at 1:47 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


No one is trying to deny you your access to ebooks, so I am not sure why you are whining about people who like other formats. The fact that ebook sales have leveled off and paper formats have retained a substantial percentage of sales indicates that in fact, not everyone loves reading on a screen. Which isn't very surprising, reading on a phone isn't that comfortable and not everyone wants to maintain a separate tablet with a better reading surface size. Or don't care to take an expensive piece of property to sit by the pool or where ever they may want to read.

The fact that you like something does not in fact make people who like other things 'shortsighted', and trying to make the thing you like the only option means it stops being an 'unqualified good'.
posted by tavella at 1:50 PM on February 16 [10 favorites]


The failure of Barnes & Noble isn't going to be good for the ebook market either. We'd lose one of the largest American distributors of the more open (and hackable) epub standard, and take a step closer to a market where a single company can claim a vertical monopoly on a large volume of literature.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:54 PM on February 16 [7 favorites]


The development of AZW3, KF8, and KFX by Amazon feels very much like Microsoft's attempt at creating customer lock-in for office documents, but without the clear advantages that .DOC initially had over competing formats. Ultimately I think consumers lose both portability and accessibility without a common DRM-free standard for literature.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 2:21 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


there is someone born every day who hasn't seen the flintstones

I genuinely did not know this when I started working in corporate America -- all my friends and family were in nonprofits, government, or part-time jobs that are insecure by default. Just in case there's anyone here who doesn't know, here's a PSA:

Most companies have layoffs. They can happen every year, every quarter, or even more frequently than that. They can affect 1 person, or a large percentage of them. They are more common in struggling companies, but even very successful companies do layoffs.

Ninety-nine percent of the time there isn't a news article, since everyone is sworn to secrecy. Very often there isn't even an internal e-mail. The layoffs you hear about in the news are the tiniest, tiny tip of the iceberg. Even high-profile, ultra-successful companies have periodic layoffs -- they just tend to be better at keeping them under wraps.

There are a lot of different ways people are picked for a layoff -- sometimes job performance, sometimes they're paid too much, sometimes because of their job title or location. Often the first list for a layoff will have too many women/old people/minorities, so they'll mix in some men/young people/non-minorities to make it pass legally. Getting laid off is just bad luck, it has nothing to do with anything you did or didn't do at your job.

Once I saw everyone in an entire division get laid off, except for one very junior guy. Once I saw a layoff affect exactly 1 person. Once they had a whole group of employees attend a mandatory week-long training conference at a fancy hotel, and laid them all off at the end of the last day. Once they laid off an entire remote office with hundreds of people, and didn't even tell the other employees -- everyone just had to figure it out for themselves. Sometimes they lay people off right before they were going to retire anyway. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason.

There is usually some kind of severance payment, but it can vary widely and rarely covers the time it takes to find a new job.

No one ever sues, because if you do, you'll never work again. There is no recourse.

I feel like public perception hasn't caught up to the new reality. Older people whose careers were mostly during simpler times tend to think that if you lose your job, that must mean either your company was struggling, or you did bad work or really screwed up. That is simply not true. You can be laid off for any reason, or no reason, at any time. We're all constant hustlers now.
posted by miyabo at 5:31 PM on February 16 [8 favorites]


You don't hear about layoffs because they make you sign an NDA as part of separation agreement or you won't get your severance package.
posted by octothorpe at 5:39 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


I think ebooks are an unqualified good, and that legacy print publishing is, frankly, inefficient, dated as hell, and an active impediment to authors who want to expand their reach.

I adore ebooks; I have read almost nothing else for the past 8+ years; there are good reasons they're absolutely dominating the leisure fiction sales. (And note: sales of ebooks have not "leveled off;" sales of mainstream-publisher ebooks have leveled off. Those numbers refuse to count self-pub ebooks.)

However, there are several kinds of books that don't do well as ebooks. (Most of this is due to ereader software, as supported by ereader hardware.) The short summary is, "anything non-linear:" poetry, reference works (cookbooks, auto manuals, knitting guides, etc.), academic books meant to allow jumping around, picture-heavy books, spiritual texts, workbooks, short story collections, business documents, legal documents, and anything where you want to regularly jump between two or more spots.

These are also the kinds of books that you'd prefer to buy after seeing the physical copy, because layout and structure are important to how you'll be able to use them. As more physical bookstores die, we're going to see more problems with sales of these books.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:39 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Things change. Sometimes they change fast and a lot, and I'm really disappointed in the amount of shortsightedness being demonstrated here because of sentimental attachment.

That's cool and all, but I didn't see anyone arguing against ebooks and that's not what this story is about. Although you're not the only person to say "Oh, you're losing something important to you, suck it, doesn't affect me."
posted by bongo_x at 7:56 PM on February 16 [8 favorites]


> bongo_x:
"Things change. Sometimes they change fast and a lot, and I'm really disappointed in the amount of shortsightedness being demonstrated here because of sentimental attachment.

That's cool and all, but I didn't see anyone arguing against ebooks and that's not what this story is about. Although you're not the only person to say "Oh, you're losing something important to you, suck it, doesn't affect me.""


Like B+N FT jobs with near-zero notification and severance?
posted by Samizdata at 10:30 PM on February 16


I'm not following you.
posted by bongo_x at 10:35 PM on February 16


Samizdata, I think you've misinterpreted bongo_x, and you guys are on the same page -- bongo_x was criticizing the attitudes of "who cares about physical books, it doesn't affect me, haha" that were expressed to some degree upthread. It's not an expression of agreement with that attitude.
posted by andrewesque at 11:10 AM on February 17


note: sales of ebooks have not "leveled off;" sales of mainstream-publisher ebooks have leveled off.

Do you have numbers for this? This article, for example, doesn't mention the distinction at all - would be good to know how things actually lie.
posted by ominous_paws at 1:55 PM on February 17


If you are ever in Austin, TX, check out BookPeople. It's a wonderful independent bookstore.
posted by nnethercote at 7:32 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


My last BN shopping experience probably says it all: asking their info desk if they had the latest issue of Fortean Times, and their computer showing that were supposed to have three copies in, but not finding them in their none-too-organized magazine section (with magazines crammed in front of and hiding other magazines) even with the BN employee taking the time to help me look. (In retrospect they were probably still in a box somewhere in the backroom). And this was before the recent layoffs.

It'll be sad to see them go (mainly due to their magazine section (where else are you going to find Shock Cinema, Frieze, and Shindig outside the Big City stores or online?) and their 50%-off Criterion sales). Unfortunately whether through greed, shortsightedness, cluelessness, or (more likely) all of the above, their fate seems to be pretty much sealed.
posted by gtrwolf at 9:53 PM on February 17


The idiots driving B&N into the ground are professional managers, hired by the owners (stockholders, represented by the board of directors) to run it well. They're paid well so they don't embezzle. There was a great article in the New Yorker (that I can't find right now dammit) about the history of sole proprietorships and partnerships run by the owners giving way to professional managers who just stole every damned thing until checks and balances and better pay were tried.

So instead of paying managers so little that they ending up embezzling, they pay managers so much that they don't have much incentive to engage in long-term planning or anything that could be done to actually improve anything, especially if they're guaranteed a Golden Parachute once/however they leave. (Yes I know I'm oversimplifying/generalizing, but still...)
posted by gtrwolf at 10:21 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


I can find practically anything I want to read in an instant, and to do so I only have to lug my phone and laptop around. Barnes & Noble are an anachronism, and it's surprising to me that they've lasted as long as they have.

This is probably the biggest misconception people who think online is the answer for everything have. Not everything is online. I write about why journalism collapsed, and a big part of my work is comparing articles from past to present. I cannot tell you within the last couple of years how many old articles are no longer available on any database. There is one former politician I clearly recall had gotten into serious trouble 20 years back. Not a single mention of it online anywhere. The original articles are not even on the paper's database.

I have other examples where important, but unflattering information is gone from online sources.

With PR and crisis management, the past can be erased. Bad newspaper articles are scrubbed and then people trying to keep accurate records of the batting average of various media outlets get skewed numbers.
Books and publications are essential.

The myth of the Internet being permanent and all-encompassing is inaccurate. You need hardcopies. You need to be able to form a long-term memory. Tomorrow, these words I write can vanish. The books are a differrnt matter, and when you invest in a book, the words do not vanish from your mind as easily.

Books are the bricks of civilization. It is sad how quickly people abandon tangibles for something that is harder to own or keep permanent without questioning the flaws or what the long-term consequences of tneir actions will be.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:05 AM on February 18 [10 favorites]


I got it!
Starbooks and Caribooks.
posted by ian1977 at 6:58 AM on February 18


Not everything is online

I got a job in a university library in 1998, and the students already had this attitude that print was irrelevant to their needs - at a time when there were few academic journal articles online.
posted by thelonius at 7:09 AM on February 18


I got a job in a university library in 1998, and the students already had this attitude that print was irrelevant to their needs - at a time when there were few academic journal articles online.

It's unfortunate. Libraries are divesting a lot of their print holdings, but also cutting back on their online databases. I have noticed how much less information is available on all sorts of things I know about because I have spent over twenty years studying them. It is such a horrible attitude and misconception to hold, but I have people smugly tell me they also do research, and it just comes down to snopes.

As if everything anyone needs to know is there.

B&N and other bookstores have their place -- there is nothing inherently wrong or defective with books. They are static archives. I was a j-school student way back in 1995, and I remember reading books, journal articles, newspapers, magazines -- and online databases. There were things you could only find in some dust-covered book in the basement -- and then you could begin to work from there.

The idea of having to work to find information has almost completely vanished, and it is costing society its very foundations.

I sympathize with your sentiments. Books are not archaic, and there is no guarantee that online versions of them can't and won't be altered. It's a crisis almost no one seems to cares about, but it's a serious problem that seems to be getting worse by the day.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:39 AM on February 18 [7 favorites]


I seem to go the opposite way with readability. Screen text (especially color phone text) seems hard for my eyes to focus on. (Especially white on dark.)
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:38 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Alexandra Kitty-

I agree and tend to view it as one of the signs of a simmering disaster. Like when you're reading history and they have one of those "How did it happen? A combination of..."


I seem to go the opposite way with readability. Screen text (especially color phone text) seems hard for my eyes to focus on.


I read computer screens a lot for browsing and such, but can't imagine reading a book on one. I find e-ink readers to be easier on my eyes and easier to read than print most of the time. People are already talking about them going away and assume you mean a tablet when talking about ebooks, which is another weird thing to me. Mine won't last forever, and I'll only have print books then.
posted by bongo_x at 12:04 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


A Chief Merchandising Officer? That's seriously depressing. These stores are going to turn into a backyard-sale kind of situation before we know it, and be full of stuff we don't need.
posted by oprahgayle at 12:48 PM on February 18


I do sometimes lament the demise of Borders, before it turned into a stagnant, lifeless replica of a novelty gift store, filled with moustache coffee mugs and desk toys, with books on the periphery. The first Borders I ever went into, at the Jam Factory in Melbourne, was a revelation, and it was practically impossible to spend any time there without discovering a dozen books I didn't know I wanted but, it turns out, I had needed my entire life; and, subsequently, dropping large portions of my very modest pay packet on those things. It still staggers me that something so incredible could have failed so spectacularly.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:09 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


Chief Calendar Officer
Chief Sudoku Officer
Chief Harry Potter Figurine Officer
posted by thelonius at 3:01 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


Chief Discounted Ron Weasley Face Badge Table Officer reporting to Chief Harry Potter Figurine Officer.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:46 PM on February 18 [6 favorites]


Re: Ebook sales: EBook Sales Figures in Decline? Not So!
What is changing is which eBooks are selling and how they are being sold. Amazon and Kindle are (practically) forcing eBook authors and publishers to sign up for Kindle Unlimited. Kindle Unlimited allows subscribers to read eBooks for a monthly fee. Those fees are combined and distributed to the publishers each month, Kindle Unlimited payouts have been growing each month over the last few years.
They also draw heavily on mainstream publisher data, ignoring both self-pub on Amazon and anything sold on small publisher sites. In other words, the Publishers Association missed about 38% of the market.

The articles declaring that ebooks are down and print is recovering focus on things like adult coloring books, cookbooks, and YA/children's books. (Of course kid's books are mostly print - preteens can't buy ebooks without violating at least one site's "must be 13+ to have an account here" rules. And the vicious anti-sharing policies means kids can't swap around a favorite ebook and inspire someone else to buy the next one in the series.)

And then they quote things like, "According to the Pew Research Center, 65% of Americans reported reading a printed book in the past year, compared to only 28% who read an e-book.
A quarter of the population hadn't read a book of any kind." What they didn't mention is what percentage of people who read more than a dozen books in a year, read them on screens.

Occasional readers want print. Avid, voracious readers love print... but want a constant stream of text delivered for convenience. I love books... but print buying is not my first choice for linear text anymore. And none of B&N's gimmicks are going to persuade me to shop there.

What could get me back into bookstores: A place to read, not just buy. Knowledgeable staff that can help me find what I might like, not just what I came in to look for. (Small indie bookstores have this, and I sometimes buy books because of it.) Auxiliary material for fiction: Letter-sized maps of fantasy worlds, genealogy charts of the families in a series, glossary of that weird conlang, recipe book of a handful of the noteworthy meals in the book: extra $1 or $2 with the book purchase; $5 on its own. (And sure, the digital version might be available too, but these are things where print is actually better.) For people more interested in books-as-gifts: combo packs - buy the book; get $1-$3 a related piece of merchandise.

I'm not sure if BN can recover from the shifts to digital; the fact is, most people don't care to read, and are happier now that there are other forms of info and entertainment available. (Newspaper sales are not going to go back up.) BN might be viable in the future (well, might have, if they hadn't just fired all their experts), but it would take paying attention to what readers want. And I'm not seeing any signs that they even know who their market is.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:19 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


MrGuilt: "Joseph Beth Booksellers here in Cincinnati has shifted considerable floorspace from books to "gifts"--candles, cards, bags, other stuff."

Plus, they closed their Pittsburgh store. Which is too bad, it was terrific.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:51 PM on February 20


> I still compulsively neaten shelves, thanks to my years at B. Dalton

There's a Free Shelf at the place where we dance. I stop short of alphabetizing, but I always neaten them.
posted by theora55 at 6:33 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


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