Bookstore chain Barnes & Noble appears on the same path to bankruptcy as former competitor Borders, now defunct.
Reports in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal this week tell of declining sales of traditional printed books at B&N stores. As Borders attempted, B&N has cut back on book titles to give more space to toys, games, puzzles and accessories. This proved a bad strategy for Borders, with book buyers not finding a range of choices, forcing them to turn to Amazon, and looks self-defeating for B&N.
B&N a few years ago attempted to compete in the e-reader wars with its Nook tablet, one of which I quite satisfactorily own. Amazon's Kindle and Apple's IPad are too strong; B&N announced this week that along with declining bookstore business, it was subcontracting the manufacture of color Nooks to other companies. This was characterized as Nook's surrender.
The decline of bookstore chains like Borders and B&N has brought a revival of independent, locally owned bookstores, threatened by the behemoths during their boom times 15 years ago. However, the independents don't seem to be flourishing. Amazon with its sales of traditional and e-books dominates the market. Wal-Mart and Costco also sell books at cut-rate products. The independents allegedly can compete with better "service" and events such as author appearances and panel discussions, but this is a dubious long-term survival plan.
I liked the old Borders better than B&N, but I will mourn B&N's inevitable demise. Atlanta's B&N stores lack charm and a broad selection. B&N does offer pleasant experiences in other cities; I love the one at Union Square in New York City and the one in my hometown of Baton Rouge offers a welcome oasis of civilization, including a good selection of Louisiana books.
When B&N disappears, a few hearty independent bookstores might remain. I grew up with fine independent bookstores, including several in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. For a number of years, independents have been shells of their old selves, although robust survivors like Powell's in Seattle keep the old flame glowing. Lauded newcomers like Parnassus in Nashville receive strong press not matched by depth of selection or quality of service.
Whether E-books are the future remains unknown. Printed books could hold on as rare artifacts for special collectors. The Internet or cloud will grow as book depositories - we hope humans continue to produce books, in whatever form.
Or perhaps the continued decline in education and increased technological repression will result in the end of books, except for a secret cache held by a narrow ruling elite, the only ones who can read.