Barnes & Noble Closing Upsets Book Huggers, Luddites, Please Get A Grip
Yesterday, we learned Barnes & Noble is closing up to a third of its physical stores, a circumstance in and of itself that signals a changing market, not necessarily a departure from the love of books, overall.
Indeed, Barnes & Noble closing is a sign of the times and technology, in as much as for better or worse, physical media is becoming obsolete.
And while book fans — a vocal bunch who seem to spend more time posting sanctimonious graphics on Facebook about bookophilia than they do reading actually books — are not too pleased with the news, it is probably actually more a positive than a negative for the publishing industry.
(An industry, I think we can all agree, is in a bend or break moment.)
Anyone who fears the Barnes & Noble closing news somehow threatens the publishing industry need only look back at the recording industry debacle that closely preceded it. Technology and advancement for music fans was delayed needlessly by that industry’s failure to accept the inevitable and aggressively adapt, and it’s only in very recent years we’ve seen the models finally catch up to our new capabilities.
In that time, the recording industry lost tons in revenue as well as countless customers who became fed up with an insistence it was either CDs or piracy.
So Barnes & Noble closing stores may sound like the end of the world to some — check out what WaPo had to say on the subject yesterday:
“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.”
The luddite lamenting the Barnes & Noble closing news adds:
“Look, I do not come to Barnes & Noble every weekend and purchase several volumes because I am laboring under the misapprehension that Nooks do not exist. I show up and buy because I like physical books. I don’t understand why you are working so hard to discourage this.”
Well, lady, because the interest is growing in ebooks and declining in paper books. No one is moving on from an inferior form of media at you. Lack of understanding can be easily resolved by simply reviewing publishing industry data from the last several quarters.
“I understand, in theory, that it is far cheaper to sell books that require no shipping and restocking. But we do not want to buy that sort of book from you. Amazon has more of them, for cheaper. Besides, if I wanted to buy a Nook, I would already have bought a Kindle.”
But what this writer and countless others so enamored of paper books neglects to admit about the Barnes & Noble closing is that the paradigm has already shifted. You may see your local bookstore as a thriving outlet of literature aficionados, but arguing with what is is a losing gambit.
While those steadfastly devoted to print will always remain, those similarly wed to vinyl remain as well. And the writing is on the wall for Barnes & Noble, and the closings should be viewed as a necessary step to keep their business model alive.
The dynamic between the consumer and the recording industry right now is irrevocably marked by distrust, anger and frustration at the years of fighting over what eventually became a digital model for distribution overall. And the best thing for the industry is to go the way is inevitably and forever blowing, as it won’t be long until — sorry to be the bearer of bad news — the vast majority of books are read in digital format.
As a lifelong reader myself, I must admit I sometimes bristle at the wails of lamentation that meet stories like the Barnes & Noble closing news. I am also a long-time lover of books. Hyperlexic (though the diagnosis did not exist at the time), I read at the age of two from the New York Times and by five, was clocking three books a day, until I discovered magazines and boys.
As a young mother and wife and before achieving international fame and fortune as a writer, I had no time to go get books from the library and little dispensable income to afford a home collection. A book was a rare treat and avidly consumed, until I discovered scads of free and readable works on the internet in the mid-2000s.
Now that I have a Kindle and a Kindle app, I have relapsed into book addiction — but the technological advances of the day have made that possible. For time and resource strapped readers, the death of the physical book opens up a world of possibility that even ten years ago barely existed, and we should, all of us, express gratitude that books have been once more made accessible to anyone with a smartphone and access to the Kindle Top 100 Free list.
So please perspectivize the Barnes & Noble closing news outside the feeling that “real books” are “warmer” or somehow more authentic. They are not, and this whole elitist idea that a more level playing field for publishing and the ability to wake up the morning of a new release with the title waiting on your device is somehow not the most awesome thing that has happened to books since libraries.
You guys do not corner the market on book love — many of us life-long readers are as excited about the new possibilities as you are saddened by the loss of paper, and neither perspective is inherently more valuable than its opposite.
Besides, Barnes & Noble is closing a third of stores — meaning two thirds will remain open. You don’t want a Nook? Fine, but is a slightly longer suburban drive really not worth the price of books being far more available, accessible and cheaper to the rest of us?