Thoughts on Barnes and Noble

Josie Leavitt -- February 6th, 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.