Saturday, January 12, 2013


"The avid readers who want rare titles are going to end up on the internet"

According to recent reports, such as one at the Daily Beast, the book seller Barnes & Noble is going to shut down their megastores.  It was only a matter of time, although B&N was smarter than many of its competitors and got into online sales very early.
The old system of printing up tons of books, shipping them to distributors and big stores and hoping to sell enough to make up the cost is just not working any more.  See, a publisher would print up 1000 copies or whatever and ship them out to stores.  Stores would take them on consignment as it were, shipping back any unsold copies to the publisher.  If it all worked out, the publisher would sell enough to recoup the costs of unsold books (or sell them all), and give the author like 5% of the cover price in royalties.
But not enough books are selling.  Sure, there will be a big hit like Harry Potter or 50 Shades of Gray (for whatever bizarre reason), but for the most part, people just aren't buying books like they used to.  There are a lot of reasons, from price to economy to idiots not wanting to read and to electronic readers, but it all adds up to one thing: you can't keep a megastore open any longer; you just don't make enough money at it.
That's both bad and good.  Its good in that it means local small stores will do better without the big competitors.  Its bad because it means the era of fairly cheap books is over.
Back when the printing press first came out, books were very expensive and only the wealthy could really afford to buy one.  Printing was slow and costly and only a smaller portion of the population could read to begin with.  Books were a mark of wealth and luxury, and a well-stocked library was the sign of a great man even if they were mostly unread.
It seems like we may be moving back to that model now, with new print books becoming more luxury items as they go to print-on-demand (POD) which is more expensive than mass printing.  POD will get more efficient and less costly but will not be as cheap as printing multiple copies at least in the foreseeable future.
Used books, though, I expect to become more and more popular as they become retro and a symbol of learning and academia.  Holding a book in your hand will not only become hip, but will be an icon of someone who has studied and understands more, I suspect.
I want an electronic reader at some point, even I can afford a 99 cent book once in a while.  But I will always love books.


Anna said...

I thought this was a done deal long ago. Regionally, our B&N stores all closed between 1-2 years ago.

Christopher Taylor said...

Yeah they've been contracting a few years now; the whole company looks to be going under now. Maybe they'll stay around as a digital presence.

Tina said...

I visited Hastings (the only bookstore near here - and much of their stock is used books) night before last, and bought two copies of The Message Bible. While there, I had a chance to browse some other study bibles, one of which I plan to go back and purchase. A major problem with modern mega-bookstores (and soon to be a problem with libraries from what I hear) is they only stock trendy books. So often, when I want a book, I cannot buy it locally because it was "last year". Thus it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As to eReaders, I have one and love it BUT (and I need to do a blog post about this) I've found the eReader is not good for reference books or any book one wants to read more than once, and not easy for lending or thumbing through. Great for a novel, lousy for a Bible, poetry, or a dictionary.

Unknown said...

Interesting, B & N just moved their store from Washington Sq to Bridgeport taking over the old Borders space. I can't imagine they did that if the intention was to go under less then a month after the move. But who knows in retail.

Anonymous said...

This saddens me, it really does. I don't like e-Readers--they give me headaches.

But I imagine this means that places liked half-price bookstores and used bookstores are going to do well. That's where I go most of the time anyway to buy books. I just can't give up the feel of a good book in my hands, though, and I like to collect rare editions and books that are no longer in print that I really enjoy.