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 The idea of bookstores being outdated, utterly unprofitable dinosaurs is just as close-minded and simplistic as the idea of publishing companies – and the publishing industry as a whole – being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.