Monday, July 1, 2013

Dear book lovers, don't you remember? Barnes & Nobel are the enemy.

Most people that follow news in the publishing world have seen the last quarter numbers for Barnes & Nobel then promptly shook their heads. If you haven't, you can read about them here. Only what happened next was a bit puzzling to me.

Amazon gets a lot of flack for, "Destroying Indie bookstores." Which, on some level I think is unfair. Especially now that the blog-o-sphere is hammering them for destroying Barnes & Nobel. Honestly, who cares if they destroy BN--they are the bad guys remember? With the help of now defunct Borders--and that third chain bookstore I can never recall the name of, they shut down more indie bookstores than Amazon ever did. They also did it methodically, and a part of their business plan. Dare I say, evilly. Amazon never once built a bookstore across the street from one that was already there, and lets be frank; brick and mortar stores fulfill a completely different need than Amazon. If I want to hand select a meaningful gift, or get a custom book recommendation from the mouth of someone I trust--I'm going down the street, not to a .com.

So I suppose down the line, someone decided that Barnes & Nobel was the lesser of two evils. I want to know, are you absolutely sure about that? What if I told you that BN was *this close* to being bought out by Wal-Mart? The chief destroyer of the mom and pop store. Would you rather they joined forces with Wally World, or would you rather they just went away--and possibly paved the way for more indie book stores to stay open? Don't believe BN would ever do that? Read about it here.

I think it's real easy to point fingers at Amazon and blame them for the shuttering of small booksellers, but really I think the bad economy is more to blame. Only now that Barnes & Nobel is on the brink of collapse, we are willing to forgive every sin they ever committed against anyone. Keep in mind, they would be in a far better place is every business decision they have made in the past, oh three years or so, wasn't a knee jerk reaction to something Amazon did.

I have been sitting on a 3 part blog series for a while, waiting for the right time. I think it's finally here. The series is called, The E-Book Apocalypse. What Would Happen if Amazon Fell? It's in this same vein, but while I think the publishing world in it's current state won't collapse into chaos with out Barnes & Nobel, I think we are in a world of trouble if Amazon were disappear. It's going to run Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, next week.

I made a joke about the name of Barnes & Noble; if you didn't get it read about it here.


Unknown said...

I am an author and I also hold an MBA degree. The business cycle is constantly moving. Amazon gets a lot of flack for being an evil empire, but really, they are evil geniuses. Amazon innovates and is not afraid to try new products or business models. You are exactly right when you say B&N only reacts to Amazon. They are not an innovator.

I feel badly for the Mom & Pop bookstores, but they need to embrace innovation too. The indie bookstores that seem to thrive are those who server coffee, host book clubs and signings, create a comfortable place for bookish people to hang out. In this economy, no one running a business can afford to rest on their laurels.

Larry Kollar said...

I've said in the past, after what B&N (and B.Dalton and Borders) did to indie bookstores, I won't shed a tear if it goes.

But Mal*Wart is having their own problems; they don't need a money-loser putting more drag on their core business. And most Mal*Wart customers aren't exactly what you'd call heavy readers.

B&N is a far better fit for Microsoft. MS currently doesn't have an eBook store, like Apple does with iBooks, and the brick&mortar outlets would give MS the chance to place their own products (and maybe "select applications") where the games and toys now sit. They wouldn't even have to buy B&N outright; they could link up with the Nook Store and rent that shelf space instead. B&N gets life support, MS gets a bunch of attention and perhaps positive publicity for a change.

When Microsoft sunk that chunk of change into B&N, I figured the handwriting was on the wall for Nooks, at least of the Android variety. My theory, and the current blowout prices for the Nook HD/HD+ bear this out, is that B&N is clearing their inventory of Android tablets in preparation for a reading tablet based on W8. I'm sure we'll hear something once the HDs are mostly sold.

Unknown said...

This problem most independent booksellers have with Amazon isn't competition--it's unfair competition. Amazon doesn't pay sales taxes in most places, they underpay and abuse their distribution center staff, and they use local retailers as showrooms, even encouraging customers to scan items and collect price data for Amazon.

Barnes & Noble operates on a level playing field with the indies. (Which is part of the reason Amazon is killing them.) All readers should be very concerned with B&N's health. Remember: Amazon's largest business is not books--it's consumer electronics. Do you really want our literary future in the hands of the online equivalent of Best Buy? I don't.

Angela Kulig said...

Awww Mike, I missed your face. I will admit, I kind of hoped you would come out for this debate. I even pulled myself from bed to write a response when I saw you had replied. Cuz I love, love, LOVE you, but I know we see this sort of thing different.

First of all, I don't know how you can say with a straight face that BN operates on a level playing field as indie book sellers! This is the sort of selective amnesia that is KILLING me. Last time I checked, indie book stores ran roughly 30% or less the size of an average Barnes & Nobel. Plus, I doubt they were partnered with MEGA BRANDS Starbucks and Microsoft. Also, they seemed to be lacking the benefits of high volume from operating close to 700 stores.

If I am going to an indie book store, I understand I am paying more for atmosphere and good company. That's great. I LOVE being around people who love books instead of moody emo kids who just want a paycheck.

Also, please love. Amazon DOES NOT = BEST BUY. Best Buy who is currently crumbling as fast as BN but with less style. Their business plan is nothing like the e-book giant's. They price jack and apply high pressure sales tactics and manipulative marketing strategies to lure consumers in and pressure them to buy. (I used to be a marketing manager)

Selling things besides books does not make them the devil.

And THAT is why the code scanner is a useful tool. So when the college kid working on commission tells you they have a low price guarantee on that three thousand dollar TV, you can tell 'em to put up or shut up. Because chances are that TV is cheaper EVERYWHERE else. I don't know any book lover who is going to scan a bookstore's worth of books to see if they are cheaper on Amazon. Who doesn't know they are going tobe cheapter there? If I have got a book in my hand, and I want to read it, it's coming home with me. I wouldn't want to wait. I think that is pretty standard, and I believe most people aren't concerned with the added cost of sales tax when they are purchasing a $10 book from a bookstore.

How are you willing to forgive them for systematically destroying indie book sellers? Amazon doesn't care about the family bookstore--they care about BN--and they cared about Borders. Why should we bleed for giant corporations that tried to destroy what we love and then made years of bad business decisions?