When Barnes & Noble announced a couple of weeks ago that they were for sale, the incredible irony of the potential results of such a move struck me. Almost immediately, I saw the very positive ramifications for our industry.
The incredible proliferation of the chain bookstores over the last twenty or so years has wreaked havoc on our business. The chains first and in a very dramatic way caused some of the greatest independent bookstores in our country to go out of business. It was in these individual stores that word of mouth about first time authors and their books would begin to build and spread outward. Many of these independent stores were responsible for creating bestsellers and successful writing careers.
But then the chains came in and knocked the independents out with their discounting and other mass merchandising methods. And these same chains because of their tremendous influence also dictated to publishers which books they should publish. When a chain “passed” on ordering a book, that title died—there was simply no place for it to go.
And then came Amazon, first slowly and then it exploded. Ordering electronically definitely put a crimp in the chains’ style and cost them dearly.
And this, of course, was followed by the development of e-readers and the new era of electronic publishing; the chains were becoming more and more irrelevant as places for books to be bought.
Now, Borders is barely surviving—they just laid off a bunch of staff at their headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And, Barnes & Noble might just be bought by its former owner Len Riggio who, undoubtedly, will take it back to being a much smaller, simpler operation—and continue to sell many items other than books simply because for a chain of any size, books are not as economically attractive to carry as they once were.
But the corner bookstore—and I actually have a wonderful one a block away from my home in New York City—is going to become more of a force. I don’t know yet whether the independents will multiply and grow as they once did—but I am counting on them wielding far more influence on what their customers read than they have in recent years. If this happens, then reading will benefit greatly whether books are sold in hard copy or electronically.
I am really rooting for the return of the independents and look forward to hearing what you think of all of this.