Saturday, November 07, 2020

First Visit to a B&N Bookstore Since Early March Was Depressing

 I've been very cautious about going places I really don't need to go during this whole COVID-19 disaster, but I decided to poke my head inside the door of a couple of local bookstores last week for the first time since early March. I figured I could judge by their parking lots whether or not very many people were inside before I ventured through the door myself. In both cases, the stores had maybe 10% of the number of browsers and shoppers I consistently found there in the pre-pandemic days.

Interestingly, one of the stores, Half-Price Books, looked exactly the way I remembered it looking last March. But the other one, a large one-floor Barnes & Noble, looked like someone had walked away with about 25-30 percent of the books they used to stock. Shelves had been moved around, there were empty wide-open spaces all over the place, and customers seemed to be doing nothing but browsing. I didn't see a single book actually being sold for the entire 30 minutes I was there.


This is what I mean. Look at the astounding amount of floor space being wasted. Back in March, space like this was utilized by rows and rows of shelving used to display books. The shelving, at least as I recall it, ran perpendicular to this pathetic little island sitting out there all alone. 


This is what's left of what was a substantial Fiction section in the store. It appears that more than half the old shelves are gone from this area. I did find a few remnants of the old shelves in other spots, but the number of books being carried by this B&N location is now pretty embarrassing. If you are looking for anything not brand new or on the bestseller list, forget it. That is unless it's the back catalog of such literary masters as Stephen King, James Patterson, Danielle Steele, or the like. 


This is a spot in one of the back corners of the store. This area used to house the store's nonfiction books, but it has suffered a fate similar to that of the fiction section I mentioned earlier. The one lone table, featuring a single book, highlights the emptiness and deterioration of the section. The history section is still pretty good, but not all of the nonfiction sections appear to have been so lucky. Lots of missing shelves, translates to lots of missing books from which to choose.


I put this photo here only to show that the store has decided to remove the benches that were on the green rugs before the pandemic changes. I do sort of understand that removing the seating in the store is probably a smart move until Texas gets its infection rate under control. The few remaining chairs in another corner of the store have also all been removed.

This just made me sad. Barnes & Noble has been struggling for years to survive the Amazon onslaught. B&N managed to help drive all the other bookstore chains out of business years ago, and then Amazon decided to do the same to them. But up until now at least, my local store still served as a place I could go into and come out of with some book I didn't even know existed until I spotted it on a shelf. And then, if I wanted to read something else by that surprise author, there was a chance that the store had at least another book or two by them.

Those days are gone now. Chances of finding something new and interesting at this B&N location are only slightly better than trying to wade through the Amazon dreck-haystack looking for something worth reading. In the Amazon case, it's a haystack so filled with utter garbage that good books get buried by the trash. In the B&N case, the haystack is now so small that the interesting stuff gets buried by the dreck written by the Kings, Pattersons, Steeles, and ghost writers of political books. 

These changes give me the impression that Barnes and Noble is hanging on by the skin of its teeth now. I certainly didn't enjoy my visit to this location, and I walked away empty-handed. Can't remember the last time that's happened. I entered all prepared to spend a lot of money on my first visit to a bookstore in over six months. I left without spending a dime - and that's B&N's fault, not mine.

I asked the store manager what was behind all the changes, and her explanation was that they were told to get rid of everything that "doesn't sell." For that reason, bestsellers and hack-authors now dominate the shelves. I even asked her if the "island spacing" had something to do with keeping customers more spread out during the pandemic. She looked at me as if I had just given her an idea of how to answer the question next time she was asked about all the missing books. But, no, she said this was the store's permanent new look.

And that depresses the hell out of me.


As did this book I found on display. How could Anne Perry, of all the people in the world, write a book with this particular title? This is the same woman who helped beat her mother's best friend to death with half a brick stuffed in a sock - the young mother who took the author into her home and included her on the very outing during which Perry helped murder her. The lack of personal awareness on exhibit here is astounding.

18 comments:

  1. Sam, your B&N story is so depressing. I can see moving some stuff out during the pandemic - our local one was way too crowded but, I don't appreciate risking my health venturing into a B&N and finding mostly best sellers...so sad.

    I am mad at myself whenever I order from Amazon but with 24 hour turnaround and my immediate gratification gene, it is hard to avoid them. I did cancel my Audible membership so that I can support an Indie store in my area by joining Libro.fm instead for audiobooks.

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    1. Diane, it's mostly the best known authors with few surprises there right now. And the little space for back catalogs they have is dedicated to the same old authors that are so easily found everywhere else.

      I could so easily envision the old floor plan and what was in all the huge empty spaces that I got frustrated within just a few minutes and left after asking the manager for some clarification - which she really didn't end up giving me.

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  2. Ah, this is sad. But it's been a long time since I stepped in a B&N, the one in my town closed years ago and honestly I never missed it. I do make a point when I travel to stop in any local indie bookstore I find, especially used ones- always find more interesting books there. Online I prefer to use abeBooks.com and of course, Powell's- but what I really miss is the big library sales and the Book Thing. There's nothing else like that.

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    1. The independent books stores have largely disappeared around me unless I want to drive into Houston's traffic or go the other direction for 10-20 miles, minimum. Half-Price Books is my only alternative, and it looks like they will be my go-to bookstore from now on because my home shelves are more interesting than the ones at Barnes & Noble now.

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  3. That is depressing! There used to be so many bookstores around when I was growing up, and now there's Barnes and Noble (which you know seems to be slowly vanishing as we watch) and a couple used bookstores that don't have much selection, or hardly any books I want to buy. Which forces me to turn to Amazon...which then hurts all the brick and mortar stores. It's a sad, depressing cycle. :(

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    1. You're right. It really is a sad, depressing cycle.

      And the irony of all of this is how hard Barnes & Noble worked to drive all the other large chains right out of business. And then, boom! Along came Amazon to return the favor. It's hard to feel sorry for B&N because of that, but if we lose them, I wonder if a similar chain will ever be able to replace them.

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  4. I have been an Indie author for the past 5 years. My marketing strategy is simple. I write a book, use beta readers and editor to take the book to the next level in reading experience.
    I use http://honestbookreview.com/ to gather book reviews. I buy their membership plan around Christmas and get a 100% Cashback.
    I use https://www.bookbub.com/ for marketing.
    This strategy is simple and worked well for me over the years.

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    1. Sounds like a good plan, Dora. The publishing world has really changed in the last few years. It's up to authors to do the jobs of what used to be done by a whole staff of people. I suppose that can be aa good thing for some, but those authors not as savvy about technology and marketing are going to suffer if they don't have others to help.

      Best of luck to you.

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  5. How sad. B&N was always somewhere we couldn't keep out of wherever we went on our three trips to the USA. Loved that chain so much. What I didn't realise was that it had worked so hard to drive other chains out of business. Now wondering what will come along in the future to drive Amazon out of business.

    Ah yes, Anne Perry. Not many people seem to know who she really is. I read a few of her books before I found out about that. She was living in Scotland at one stage but I don't know if she's still there. Completely agree about the inappropriateness of that exhibit.

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  6. I don't know if all the B&N stores have done this, Cath, but I can't really imagine that what this location has done is any kind of exception to their current business plan.

    Anne Perry is the Queen of No-Self-Awareness. I think she's still somewhere in the UK, but not sure if it's still Scotland.

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  7. Wow, I was sure all that space was due to keeping people distanced because of the virus.
    I should probably whisper this, but I am someone who is grateful beyond words for internet shopping for books. My taste is so unpopular, and so British that I never found what I wanted in a real life bookshop, except for a hundred years ago when they carried all kinds of books. I'm likely thinking of college now. So half a hundred years. Now I can read about a book on someone's blog and can usually find it no matter how old or unknown here. And the Kindle is a Godsend for me in that way as well. I do miss the browsing in those good old days, but I have such a houseful of books now I never would have had if not for the internet.
    I guess I've never really felt sorry for them because of their running the little shops out of business. You've seen You've Got Mail, right?

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    1. I really thought the spacing was a reaction to the virus, too, Nan. And, as you saw up above, I tried to offer the store manager that excuse, but she acted as if that had never crossed her mind. It really does appear that B&N is hanging on by a thread now and that they either cannot afford to fully stock their stores or that publishers are refusing to do so much business with them on credit anymore.

      B&N was really vicious back in the day when their main mission was to drive all their small competitors and then all their larger competitors out of business. I hated them when that was happening and refused to do any business with them. Then when Amazon came along and started doing the same to them, I had to smile a little. Of course, that means that Amazon will ultimately be the last bookstore standing...and that's not good for any of us.

      Like you, I've turned to Amazon more and more this year, and will probably continue to do so because I don't think B&N will ever again be a very good place to discover books. It's sad, but they once lived by the sword. Now they know how it feels to bleed from the same weapon.

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  8. Perry is listed as living in a small village near Inverness. It wouldn't surprise me if she had (or has) a home in California because (until now) she's always been Johnny-on-the-Spot to come here to The Poisoned Pen for all of her book releases.

    The man who saved Waterstone's in the UK decided to do the same with Barnes & Noble, but I don't think he figured on the pandemic to throw a monkey wrench into his plans. It has been a long, long time since I've been in any type of chain bookstore, primarily because I'm blessed by living close to one of the best indie bookstores in the country, The Poisoned Pen. The relationships they've formed over thirty years with both authors and publishers is almost impossible to beat, and I love their selection of books.

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    1. I kind of figured she had settled into Scotland for good. I remember a revealing interview that Ian Rankin did of her from inside the backseat of a car (as I remember it, at least) in which he began to lose patience with her answers. She came across as a very cold person.

      We have a good mystery bookstore here in Houston but it's hard for me to get there during the week. It's called Murder by the Book. We also have a good indie in the same neighborhood called Brazos Books but they are all new books and I can't afford to shop there very often. Thus, the huge temptation to buy more books for the same money at Amazon.

      I'd love to visit The Poisoned Pen sometime. You are lucky to have that one so close to you.

      As for B&N, as an avid reader, I have to say that they are moving further and further away from what I consider a good bookstore to be. They keep giving more and more floorspace to toys and games, and now all this open space being wasted. Today's B&N is a shadow of what it used to be. I used to shop a lot at Waterstone's when I lived in London, especially since they had so many convenient locations. I was impressed by their selection and organization. The chain that never impressed me at all there was WS Smith. And, of course, I had one of those within walking distance of my flat...my usual luck.

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    2. I've never been impressed by WS Smith either. I didn't want to come out of the Waterstone's in Cambridge, and I used to get their catalog in the mail. It would take me days to decide just which books I was going to order, and the anticipation of receiving them...!

      As for Perry, I did attend one of her events, and she does come across as cold, although she and bookstore owner Barbara Peters have a long-standing relationship, so Perry did "warm up" a bit from time to time.

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    3. I went back into Half-Price Books again yesterday for about 15 minutes and walked out with four books, three of which were on my list to buy if I ever spotted them. The other one came as a complete surprise to me. I find that I am much more comfortable in a used-book bookstore now than in one that only sells new books. It's the adventure and mystery of never knowing exactly what may turn up on any given visit.

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    4. Yes, used bookstores can be fantastic. The one thing that I don't like about any bookstore, however, is a resident cat. I'm allergic, and will never forget the book I found in a UBS that was full of white cat hair. Ugh! I love dogs, but-- to be fair-- if I don't think cats belong in bookstores, then dogs shouldn't be there either. Now... how did I get off on this topic?!?

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    5. I pretty much agree...dont need books that end up smelling like animals before I bring them home. Especially since you usually can't tell that until you get them home or inside your car. I'm just thankful that I don't have to avoid the books that smell like cigarette smoke anymore. Those days seem to be gone forever.

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