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Saturday, January 28, 2012

As Barnes & Noble Goes, So Goes the Future of Publishing

A New York Barnes and Noble Location
Not all that long ago, I was able to choose between buying a a recently published book from Barnes and Noble, B. Dalton, Borders, Book Stop, Crown Books, and even a handful of really good, but much smaller, booksellers.  Now there are just Barnes and Noble and the Books-A-Million chains, the latter of which has never had much of a presence in Houston.  When they first appeared, all of the national chains were harshly accused of running out of business all the little guys that had been selling books locally for decades.  The chains were most definitely cast as the bad guys, and they probably were.  Now, however, I would kill to have them back because even the last standing giant, Barnes and Noble, may not be long for this world and the little guys are not likely to return even if that happens.

The CNBC website has posted a heartbreaking, and terrifying, New York Times article clearly presenting the predicament that traditional publishers are in today.  The publishers recognize that the survival of Barnes and Noble is now closely tied to their own future survival.  This is true, despite the fact, that the bookseller is walking a very fine line itself as it tries to compete with Amazon in the e-book market while not, as a result, entirely killing off so much of the demand for printed books that it has to close its brick and mortar bookstores. Without Barnes and Noble's bookstores, the future of printed books will be much different than today - and many experts are already predicting that Barnes and Noble has started down the path of a long, slow death spiral of its own.
Without Barnes & Noble, the publishers’ marketing proposition crumbles. The idea that publishers can spot, mold and publicize new talent, then get someone to buy books at prices that actually makes economic sense, suddenly seems a reach. Marketing books via Twitter, and relying on reviews, advertising and perhaps an appearance on the “Today” show doesn’t sound like a winning plan.
 What publishers count on from bookstores is the browsing effect. Surveys indicate that only a third of the people who step into a bookstore and walk out with a book actually arrived with the specific desire to buy one.
[...] 
While publishers’ fates are closely tied to Barnes & Noble, said John Sargent, the C.E.O. of Macmillan, it’s not all about them.
“Anybody who is an author, a publisher, or makes their living from distributing intellectual property in book form is badly hurt,” he said, “if Barnes & Noble does not prosper.” 
If, as a true book-lover, any of this scares you or makes you nervous, you should read the entire article. It will terrify you and make you wonder if Jeff Bevos, head of Amazon, is on the verge of killing off the industry dearest to our hearts...and yet, few of us can resist the lure of Amazon's cheap prices and quick delivery.  Are we nuts?

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