As far as bookstores go, Barnes $ Noble is the undisputed heavy weight champion of the world. Although its biggest contender for the title is that online behemoth, Amazon, that “bookstore” cannot really be considered a bookstore at all. In fact, Amazon is really nothing more than a virtual bazaar where one can go to buy almost anything one desires. So, for all intents and purposes, Barnes & Noble is the only real bookstore that still has books as its primary merchandise. (As a side note, Borders is probably second in line, but they seem to be having some significant financial difficulties and I doubt that they will exist in 10 years or so.) All of this may be changing however. One only has to walk into any Barnes & Noble to notice that big changes are quickly taking place. These changes are almost certainly taking place in order for Barnes & Noble to gain a bigger share of and a firmer foothold on an already diminishing market; or it may signal the imminent end of the bookstore as we know it.
I spend a lot of time in bookstores. And although I much prefer the independent bookstores for their sense of familiarity and community, not to mention the knowledgeable staff, I do spend so much money that I don’t have the moral courage to boycott the bigger chains for the independents as often as I should. The 10% discount my B & N card gives does save me a significant amount of money each year. Nevertheless, I am always ashamed of myself when I break down and buy a book from the chains or from Amazon.
My twice weekly trip to Barnes & Noble (mostly to relax or to put off my work) has now become something of a nightmare. Immediately when one enters any B & N one is accosted by the Nook. It’s not that I am against electronic readers, it’s that I object to the placement of its sales. The first thing one sees upon entering is an electronic device and not a stack of books. I find this highly symbolic and highly disturbing.
Second, if you have visited a Barnes & Noble in the past few weeks you will have noticed that they have significantly removed stacks of books for a toy and game section. My problem with this is that the toy and game section seems to be overtaking the book section. Barnes & Noble is quickly becoming a toy store and as a result it’s leaving its bookstore roots behind. I’m sure that the clever executives over at Barnes & Noble will inform us that they are, 1. Not leaving books behind, and 2. That the market’s demand and competition has forced them to take extreme (they will use the word “creative”) measures to insure the interests of their investors. All of this may be true and good business. Yet, people are still buying books, despite what all reports say. Is there really a need to transform Barnes & Noble into a mega bazaar the likes of Amazon? The toys Barnes & Noble sell are cute and clever, but they can and should be purchased elsewhere. The philosophy section and the travel narrative section (two of my favorites) at my local Barnes & Noble has already suffered because of the addition of toys and games. In fact, Barnes & Noble seem to be quite proud of the toy and game addition to their stores.
It’s a shame that we are losing sections of books to toys and games at a store that is labeled a “Bookseller.” Perhaps, as the New York Times reported recently, this is payback for putting a horde of independent booksellers out of business. Perhaps this change reflects a growing need for consumers to buy everything under one roof. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is the intense acidic reaction I feel whenever I now walk into a Barnes $ Noble. Perhaps, in the end, this will drive me to purchase my books at independent booksellers only. I hope so.