The big news in the bookstore world this week was the announcement that Barnes & Noble plans to close a third of its store over the next decade. That will add up to about 200 stores. A Barnes & Noble executive said in an interview that the chain will close at least 20 stores per year. The closure of stores is nothing new. Barnes & Noble has closed about 15 stores per year for the past ten years, but it used to be that it would open just as many or even more stores than it closed. Last year, the chain closed 14 stores and didn't open any.
This news is hardly surprising, but still quite sad. I love Barnes & Noble. I love the atmosphere - classy yet relaxed. I love the cafe. I love the wide selection of books and often CDs and DVDs as well as journals, games, and puzzles. I love the author events they host. I love the big armchairs where you can sit for hours.
I love independent bookstores too. Oftentimes I like them even more, because they have more personality. But I think the day of the charming mom and pop store versus the big bad chain bookstore are over. We saw with the closure of Borders that no one wins when a bookstore dies.
Physical bookstores are all at risk, be they The Tattered Cover or The Kings English or Changing Hands or Barnes & Noble. With the ease of buying a cheap book on Amazon (or even BN.com), fewer people bother buying a book in a traditional bookstore. Not to mention that books are often cheaper and more convenient at Target or Walmart. Of course, the main threat now is e-books. I have no problem with e-books. I love their convenience, and I don't want them to go away. But the fact remains that they have reduced the need for physical bookstores.
It's not as though physical bookstores aren't still busy. The problem is that the visitors are browsers not buyers. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I frequently go into Barnes & Noble, write down book titles that I like, and then look for them at the library or on Amazon. It's even worse with the Amazon app where you can scan the barcode and see the cheaper paper or Kindle price while you're standing in the bookstore. Guilty of that too.
What do we stand to lose if Barnes & Noble eventually shuts down its physical operation entirely? Tons. We'd still have independent bookstores and online retailers. But when a bookstore closes, everyone loses. Readers have less choice in where to buy their books. Authors have fewer places in which to sell their books and fewer opportunities to catch a bystander's eye with an enticing cover. Publishers will need fewer employees to market their books yet also have fewer publicity opportunities. And people who work at Barnes & Noble will have no jobs.
I hate to see Barnes & Noble shutter any of their stores, but I desperately hope they are able to find a plateau point where they can maintain a strong presence in the country and also remain financially stable. Life would not be as bright without the green Barnes & Noble sign smiling at me as I walk in the store.