Washington D.C.’s Union Station is a major point of entry for the nation’s capital. Streams of daily commuters from the region, tourists, and business travelers on the Amtrak circuit from Boston and New York can choose from an especially ample array of shopping and dining opportunities. But, as of the end of February, one of the anchor retailers will be gone. Barnes & Noble is shutting down its bookstore in a main concourse after failing to reach terms with the landlord. Browsing the aisles at Barnes & Noble stores has been a core feature of the chain’s strength in the forty years since Leonard Riggio purchased the assets of what was then a venerable seller mainly of textbooks and turned the enterprise into the country’s most formidable shaper of a superstore culture for book selling.
…of course, it was pretty clear a couple of years ago that the big-box booksellers were in trouble across the board; but it’s not apparently news until it affects the Imperial Capital. Or perhaps I am being cynical.
Meanwhile, we have yet another plaintive paean to a 21st Century company stuck in a 20th Century business model:
We have been watching you for some time. You are the last hope of the brick-and-mortar bookstore, and at first we were optimistic. We love these places, with the pictures of Great Authors fraternizing on the walls. We attend readings there. We drink coffee there. We go to brick-and-mortar bookstores to do just about everything other than buy an e-reader. This is why your approach, lately, is so worrisome.
Well, Ms. Petrie, it’s probably because of this:
Twenty-four percent of people who bought books from online retailers did so after seeing them in real live bookstores first, according to a 2011 survey. Yes, this is irksome if you are the book retailer, but it’s critical publicity for the book. Lose the showrooms, and the Book suffers.
The problem here is that Barnes & Noble is actually in the showroom business, not the ‘Book’ business – and the reason why it pushes the Nook so heavily is probably because… well, as Ms. Petri put it:
“All right,” you may justly say, “but if you care so much about physical bookstores, why do you only go into them to buy coffee and sit for several hours using the free wifi without purchasing anything?”
…and the reason why Ms. Petri does that, and will continue to do that, is because Amazon.com can offer a significant discount and frankly has a hell of a lot more titles.
This is turning into a fisking, and I don’t really like doing those all that much. I’ll just note this: technology has improved to the point where people can carry around their casual reading on their
communicators/tricorders cell phones. I understand that the publishing industry used to make a good bit of money off of selling print books, nicely bound… but then, the music industry used to make a good bit of money off of selling recordings of musical performances, embedded into vinyl disks. Evolve, or die.