Thoughts on Barnes and Noble

Josie Leavitt - February 6, 2013

I have been following the recent news of B&N’s plan to close 20 stores a year for the next decade and what that could mean to the book business. There will be fall-out for the 20 communities those stores are in, for sure. But in a bigger business sense, there will still be hundreds of bookstores that remain open beyond the next decade.
I’m a small business person. So to me, to hear of a 10-year plan to close stores seems like a company is streamlining itself and closing stores that are not as profitable as they need to be. To even have a 10-year plan seems to be coming from a place of confidence, to say that in 11 years they will still be in business. I’ve read that many writers are already lamenting what these closures, or the eventual closure on B&N might mean to the literary world.
Yes, the loss of a chain with so many stores would be a blow. But: their 10-year plan can be someone else’s boon. It’s silly to say, “Oh, no, if they can’t make it, indies surely can’t.”  Maybe the Nook and trying to go head to head with Amazon is what is making things tough for B&N. Yes, e-books are great fun and, let’s face it, the indies have been left behind on that one. We came to the e-book dance party far too late to have e-books help any of us in a substantive way. So, this can be a golden opportunity for all indies to do what we do best: customer service.
As much as people seem to love their Barnes and Nobles, I have customers every week tell me how much more they like shopping with us. Personal service is what distinguishes us from the chains. While there are many talented booksellers at chain stores, the stores are often understaffed and too large to provide individual help. While some people shop at B&N for the privacy, others would like a little more guidance in finding a good book. This is where indies shine. Our stores are smaller and therefore our selection of books is more curated and thoughtful. This lends itself to discussions about books more easily. I love it when a customer says, “I can’t believe you carry this.” There is real pride in what we carry. Our store is not 100,000 square feet, so I every book needs to have a reason to be on the shelf.
So, indies, once again, as with the closure of Borders, this news is actually good news for us. Let’s just keep doing what we do best and let the bigger chips fall where they may. And here’s hoping some new stores open to fill the voids left by the twe20nty closures a year.

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on Barnes and Noble

  1. Dorothy B.

    As an author, I have to ask: have you ever compared Barnes & Noble’s website to Amazon’s? That is all you need to know to understand why Barnes & Noble is struggling.

  2. Candace Johnson

    Customer service is such a missing commodity in every type of retail experience these days, and it is something at which independent bookstores SHINE! B&N’s plans are chance to look at things in the glass-half-empty context . . . or as you say, as a terrific opportunity to move in and seize the day! I’m sorry for communities that lose ANY bookstore, so let’s hope there are two new independents for every B&N that closes!

  3. Kevin A. Lewis

    Au contraire-B&N is simply committing slow suicide for the sake of a handful of systemgamers at the top, who will get all the drained assets in the form of pay raises and perks. BAM, Books Inc. and stores like yout own will cheerfully fill the gap…

  4. Laura

    The closing of any bookstore is not good news for anyone. Least of all all the booksellers, many who have dedicated their lives to this career. There is no place left for booksellers to go. As a former Borders Books employee the devastation of losing a job that you love is extremely difficult. Many former Borders employees (most who have at least one degree), are still unable to find a bookselling job. I haven’t seen a help wanted sign on an independent bookstore in at least a decade. We chain booksellers (and we are a dedicated, customer service oriented bunch-believe it or not), would suffer in many ways due to such large closings. And we do have customers who would miss us. No celebration here.

    1. DA

      It all comes down to individual B&N store management on how their customer service is. If you ask around the country you will find that many B&N stores have terrific customer service and community outreach. Just as not all chain bookstores are horrible cold factories, not all independents are fairy tale perfect. Many of us have been to indies where we are not even greeted or helped. Independents can’t sit on their laurels as they watch chain stores close. Don’t lose more readers to Amazon. Since it appears that one of B&N’s glaring problem now is the new product mix leaning toward non-book (of which their booksellers have no control) take advantage of that. And keep supporting local authors and smaller publishers who support you. It is sad for any bookseller to lose a job. We need to grow new booksellers and to keep experienced ones. Laura may not have seen “help wanted” signs in bookstores, but I do know of former Borders employees who have found gainful employment as booksellers and even managers in independents. I hope that can continue. Hopefully the wonderful independents realize that just because you are a chain bookseller doesn’t mean you aren’t a passionate and knowledgable bookseller. And I hope some of these laid off employees open new independent bookstores.


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