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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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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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