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Friday, February 1, 2013

If Barnes & Noble Goes Under, Will Publishing Survive?

Shoppers leave a Barnes and Noble store  in South Burlington, Vt. in November 2010. (Toby Talbot/AP)

Shoppers leave a Barnes and Noble store in South Burlington, Vt. in November 2010. (Toby Talbot/AP)

Ever since book superstores first opened their doors, people have been predicting that their low prices and lattes would bring on the demise of publishing.

But could it finally be happening?

Barnes & Noble plans to close 200 stores in the next decade, its stock price is down and its holiday e-book sales tanked more than 10 percent.

Dennis Johnson, co-founder of the independent publishing company Melville House, predicts Barnes & Noble will ultimately get out of the brick and mortar business altogether, which he fears could take the entire publishing industry with it.

The main reason: showrooming – seeing a thing before you buy it. Johnson says physical stores showcase great books, so if those stores don’t exist, the growing e-book market will also plummet.

Johnson says Melville House is working with independent bookstores to help them stay afloat. One campaign, called direct digital, is aimed at helping bookstores protect their sales.

Under the plan, Melville designs displays for books with QR codes (those square matrix barcodes). Customers who scan the QR code with their smartphone will be taken to that bookstore’s website, where they can order a digital version of the book.

Johnson admits they need additional innovative strategies to survive.

And his overall outlook isn’t good.

As he wrote in a recent column: “In short, B&N’s scorched earth policy of the 1990s has ultimately left us with, well, scorched earth. If the book is going to survive it, it’s going to take some real revolutionary activity, indeed.”


  • Dennis Johnson, co-founder Melville House, an independent publisher in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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  • Maggie

    E books sales are tanking because of the greed of publishing companies.  I for one refuse to pay for a digital book the same price as a print book. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    I’m  glad the big box stores are leaving – it’s going to make room for the small book shops to re-enter the market.

  • whosdelusion

    Your asking the horse what it thinks of the future of the automobile.
    How could  publisher Dennis Johnson  think anything but that hard covers are a better tech? He’d quit yesterday if he felt otherwise.  Browsing book stores for titles? So yesterday. 
    Amazon ads for authors already purchased, Public Radio (Fresh Air, and local arts critics), Opra’s book Club, Facebook, NYT Book section, come on!  Showrooming? thats just a failing retailers illusion. Retailers get with the (newer) program of die, in other words nothing has changed.

    • Mutacher27

      Showing is definitely something that exists. I work retail and I see it dozens of times a day. I’ll even have people come in, ask for my help and recommendations (with me spending 20-30 min of customer service), only for the customer to leave with their notes to go purchase their items elsewhere online. It frustrates me to no end. 

      I understand the lure for cheaper prices. We all have bills to pay. That said, brick and mortar stores cost more to maintain. More employees, rent, electricity, etc. It makes sense that the in-store items will cost more. In my experience  it’s making retail workers bitter. How would you like to help people, offering great customer service, only to have those people purchase their items elsewhere and you are out of a job? It sucks. 

  • qQ

    As a member of the millenial (or whatever generational term is correct) group of 20-somethings, I’ve got a useful perspective into the reading habits of my peers. Although I should say lack of reading habits. I pleasure read a couple of fiction books a week and it’s had a noticeable and positive impact on my vocabulary and critical thinking skills. My friends aren’t dull in the head, but are none too enthused about the written word. They find it tedious and are skeptical about the power of imagination to entertain. Sure as a youth I frequent bars on work-nights, party with friends and watch sub-par movies and tv. But a little more balance between intellectual pursuits and good old youthful recklessness might ease some of the shortcomings of my generation.

    Hope they save the bookstores too, I hate using ereaders.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JCDRRMFCXP3D2DU5BMIMVIOVZU edwards

    With today’s high rents and low profit margins the brick and mortar store is a dinosaur. used to run one and while I miss what it was in the 90s, I don’t miss what it was by 2010.

  • Jacartist

    I will really hate it if the Barnes and Nobel closes all its stores. B.Dalton, Borders and Waldenbooks are already gone. I’ll admit my favorite thing to do is browse in the bookstore, take note of any books I find interesting and buy them later online to download onto my digital reader.  Yes, you can search for books online but I’ve found many, many enjoyable books I would have missed if I hadn’t been in the bookstore browsing.

    • http://twitter.com/KenKozick Ken Kozick

       Awful.  Do you realize what you are doing hurts the bookstore?

  • RM

    @Jacartist, that would be a big part of why bookstores are going out of business. As with any business, if we want them around, we have to support them with our business.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tamme.giese Tamme Giese

    My 12 year old granddaughter commented that she doesn’t like to read books because she doesn’t  like the feel of  paper. She would rather read online/ebooks.

  • Knwldgequest

    I do not abide the worst treatment I have ever received as a customer at the most smug operation I have ever known, that is Barnes & Noble – too big for it’s own boots that it likes to use that to kick its customers out of their stores.  I would sit in the cafe to use the Internet, patronize the cafe and buy at least three books a month just from being there. These are books I would discover as a result of my research in writing articles or listening to the radio.

    Yes, I listen to talk radio while I work using the computer to research all manner of topics and had found that there were many books I would include in my progress and later purchase. I made a point of buying them in the store with my coupons and my membership disount. I have also met a number of very good people and learned a lot from their diverse awareness in life and on issues. We collectively appreciated having this place to come and enjoy all of these things I have mentioned here.

    I recall inquiring one day why the price for a book online was nearly half the price of the book in-store and the smug clerk dared to say, “Well, there are things you don’t get online. For one thing, you don’t have ME.” What a nerve? I would not want to pay double for the price of a book for a smug clerk who adds nothing to the sales experience other than a bad attitude and a summary disgust for the patrons.

    They kept the AC so cold in there you would freeze half to death and if you said anything about it, they would just say how great it was for them. The chairs were not at all comfortable and this lent to the attitude that they were not really interested in being a place where patrons would spend any time, but who would simply file in and out at such a pace this would take the pressure off the fact that their complete and total lack of customer service could never result in their own ability to drive any kind of sales.

    When I was told I would have to get my computer battery charge somewhere else because they were enacting plugging up the outlets, I knew I didn’t need any more no-frills invitations to “get lost.”

    Now I check out books from the library. Personally, I can’t wait for Barnes & Noble to go down hard and fast. Suck it Barnes and Noble. You only know how to make enemies and foster resentment.

    • Muteacher27

      No offense, but B&N is a business, not a library. They are in the business of selling books, not providing study areas. Would you go into a Forever 21 with your laptop and study all day? Probably not. I hate when I go into a B&N for a cup of coffee and want to broser through which books I’m going to buy, but there is no where to sit because 15 people have taken all the tables and chairs to study for 8 hours. 

  • It

    The corner service station with someone who actually knows how to work on cars is gone, yet we still drive.

  • spinoza2

    The news media focuses on the ebook vs print book issue only because it’s a convenient battle theme that lends itself to soundbite news. The far more important issue in the demise of bookstores and publishing is the skyrocketing prices for books, but this is less exciting so it gets virtually no mention in the media. 

    A typical hardbound book at B&N will set you back $30 today, more than double the price of just a few years ago. Showrooming is fine, but $30 is not an impulse purchase. At that price I’m going to take a picture of the cover with my iPhone and go to the library. Amazon understands this, which is why they tried to keep the publishers from upping their ebook price above the sensitive $9.95 threshold, without success. 

    The music industry understands this, and they’ve been willing to keep their album prices at $9.95 (which are much more costly to produce than a book). Macmillan, Random House, and others are now attempting to get $15-$20 for an ebook, which is outrageous. They simply don’t get it, which is why this price insanity drives book readers to the library or to pirated copies.

    It’s not ebooks or Amazon that’s driving B&N out of business, it’s the publishers’ greed.

    • Joe

       Part of the reason books are so expensive though is that people are not buying as many books, and especially not as many print books. Also, even though books themselves are physically not expensive to produce, the labor of editing and supporting publishing companies is expensive (particularly when you take into consideration the fact that books are not selling the way they used to).

    • Mike

      Most of my hardcover books range from 12 to 20 dollars only at Barnes and Noble online and in store. I don’t think it’s the publishers but truly ebook. 

  • LKmclennan

    It going to happen ,don’t no when it will be very sad when it dose.I am 78years old and have always looked forward to going to book stores and  hope they last a few more yearsLes

  • http://www.jerroldrichards.com/ Jerrold Richards

    I’m somewhat optimistic. I think people like books, and need books. Somehow, people who make books will find ways to get books to people who want them. Also, let’s keep in mind that presently we are in a Golden Age. For example, I was able to drive all the way from Lyle, Washington to Portland, Oregon the other day, and nobody shot at me. Marvelous. But this comes and goes. When this particular Golden Age passes, to replaced I think by hard times, even very hard times, then our wonderful electronic media may be much less pervasive. Books, on the other hand, will still be sitting there on the shelves, waiting to be used, more and more valuable as time goes by.

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