Barnes & Noble no more?

It would seem that Barnes & Noble has gone up for sale.

This is going to be interesting to watch. Personally, I have a feeling the sale is going to shake out much the same way the recent Newsweek sale did – with a very wealthy private individual buying the company and running it more as a hobby than as a profit-making enterprise. However, I don’t think it’ll turn out quite the way this business blogger does.

I take serious issue, in particular, with the conclusion of his piece:

It has been written too often that it is hardly worth repeating. The retail book industry is dying and is another of a long list of businesses savaged by the internet and the age of digitization. It is an age which already has its winners in Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN), Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), and Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG). Books run on tiny chips on small screens, and at least fewer trees are cut down.

Uh, how about no? Books are not run on tiny chips on small screens, and the eBook format will never be the only one available. I firmly believe that. Yes, Candlemark & Gleam is currently a digital-only publisher; we don’t intend to stay that way. We believe in the book as a physical object, and in the art and beauty and tactile appeal of said physical object. The idea of bookstores being outdated, utterly unprofitable dinosaurs is just as close-minded and simplistic as the idea of publishing companies – and the publishing industry as a whole – being worthless.

Bookstores are wonderful things, places where you can discover new worlds and ideas and wander for hours, looking at lovely covers and handling thick tomes and thin. You can ask a knowledgeable bookseller for recommendations, and you can sit and leaf through a stack of completely disparate titles by authors famous and unknown to see what you’d like to take home with you.

You can’t do that with pixels.

Yes, big-box bookstores are less friendly to this sort of thing than your local bookshop; that’s why we love indie bookstores. But big-box stores still have their place for getting people exposed to new authors and new ideas, and they’re still useful and potentially profitable.

What needs to change is the publishing/printing model that’s out there presently, with the unsustainable returns system and the habit of only stocking “guaranteed best-sellers” that bid for display space and thereby force out teeny little niche publishers who don’t have the bucks to compete. With a short-run digital printing model, fewer trees will be cut down…but the physical book will remain for those who love it and believe in it and crave the tactile experience that goes hand-in-hand with reading for so many of us.

Digital has a place. Analog has a place. Pixel and paper can coexist. It’s just a matter of being willing to take the risks and make the leap to see how. I hope that whoever buys B&N is willing to do that.

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6 Responses to “Barnes & Noble no more?”

  1. Patti August 4, 2010 at 6:48 pm #

    My guess is Mr. McIntyre doesn’t read for fun very often. ; )

  2. Patti August 4, 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    My guess is Mr. McIntyre doesn’t read for fun very often. ; )

  3. Donna Cummings August 4, 2010 at 8:16 pm #

    I like this, and I think you’re right when you talk about the “community” aspect of bookstores–that’s something that can’t be replaced by digital books. But I’m not sure why this topic is always framed as an either/or situation anyway. It’s like those old ethics puzzles, where there’s 5 spots in the boat and 7 people who want to get in — who do you get rid of?

    But there’s nothing that I can see about the future of books that says, “you can only pick one”. TV didn’t destroy movies. Neither did VCRs or DVDs. People like to have choices, and they like a variety of entertainment options, as well as entertainment experiences. Sometimes that experience is standing in line on release day to get the latest bestseller, so you can say, “I was there”. Maybe other times that experience is “I want it now so I’ll press a button and have it now”.

    Surely there’s room for all of that. 🙂

  4. Donna Cummings August 4, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    I like this, and I think you’re right when you talk about the “community” aspect of bookstores–that’s something that can’t be replaced by digital books. But I’m not sure why this topic is always framed as an either/or situation anyway. It’s like those old ethics puzzles, where there’s 5 spots in the boat and 7 people who want to get in — who do you get rid of?

    But there’s nothing that I can see about the future of books that says, “you can only pick one”. TV didn’t destroy movies. Neither did VCRs or DVDs. People like to have choices, and they like a variety of entertainment options, as well as entertainment experiences. Sometimes that experience is standing in line on release day to get the latest bestseller, so you can say, “I was there”. Maybe other times that experience is “I want it now so I’ll press a button and have it now”.

    Surely there’s room for all of that. 🙂

  5. Kate August 7, 2010 at 2:51 am #

    I think you’re quite right, and honestly, that’s part of why I’m surprised that the B&N sale is being framed as “B&N is in desperate trouble and signals the death of the book/bookstore.” Barnes & Noble has done a better job than anyone thus far of integrating both paper and digital books, and of bringing digital into bookstores. I mean, the “read in store” feature on the Nook is brilliant, and one of the reasons I would seriously consider getting a Nook. You can build community around digital just like you can around paper, if you’re thoughtful about it.

    And you can still have that instant push-button gratification! There’s most assuredly room for all that. I just hope that whoever buys B&N sees it…

  6. Kate August 6, 2010 at 10:51 pm #

    I think you’re quite right, and honestly, that’s part of why I’m surprised that the B&N sale is being framed as “B&N is in desperate trouble and signals the death of the book/bookstore.” Barnes & Noble has done a better job than anyone thus far of integrating both paper and digital books, and of bringing digital into bookstores. I mean, the “read in store” feature on the Nook is brilliant, and one of the reasons I would seriously consider getting a Nook. You can build community around digital just like you can around paper, if you’re thoughtful about it.

    And you can still have that instant push-button gratification! There’s most assuredly room for all that. I just hope that whoever buys B&N sees it…

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