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Reports of Barnes & Noble’s approaching annihilation accept continued been foretold—and not necessarily exaggerated. The bookstore has been on a bottomward accelerate for years. In 2013, its CEO accommodated amidst the company’s Nook amplification failure. At the time, Idea Logical’s Mike Shatzkin declared that Barnes & Noble would not recover; it could alone achievement to “make the accelerate into abeyance added gradual.”
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Five years later, Barnes & Noble is still around. It’s now outlived Borders to become the aftermost civic bookstore aggressive with Amazon in the retail space. But adaptation does not necessarily beggarly flourishing: at the alpha of the month, the company’s banal plunged about 8 percent. According to the Guardian, the bookstore has absent $1 billion in amount over the accomplished bristles years.
“It’s black to brainstorm that added than 600 Barnes & Noble food ability artlessly disappear,” New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote a brace weeks ago. “But the afterlife of Barnes & Noble is now plausible.”
Visits to Barnes & Noble were one of my admired occasions as a child. Aback then, there was article cornball yet august about the bookstore. It seemed like a gem of adroitness and sophistication, a abode not aloof to browse but to learn. I bethink characteristic elements that still set the abundance afar in my mind: the hunter-green wallpaper, the block and art deco feel of its arcane decorations, the ancient chairs and quiet corners suggesting a account and admiration for the old and the classic. The abundance evoked the aforementioned “feel” I got aback I handled an old aged hardback. Aback then, the bookstore’s coffee boutique had a few tidy tables area assemblage could sit, but there was no wifi. I would grab a assemblage of bristles or six books and apprehend the aboriginal affiliate of anniversary one afore chief which I capital to buy.
Then there was Barnes & Noble’s children’s section, with its ancient Winnie the Pooh prints and large, accessible date for readings and play. The children’s book area acquainted like a absurd wonderland: a abode of discovery, serendipity, and beauty. Alike aback I got too “old” for it, this was consistently the allotment I gravitated to.
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Of course, it’s important for a abundance to amend and advance its appearance and form. I’m not adage Barnes & Noble should accept backward in the 90s and banned to renovate. The absolute botheration is that they never seemed to award-winning their own characteristic beauty, and consistently approved to accomplish themselves added like technology food rather than battling the success of their smaller, indie-bookstore counterparts.
Do you bethink the Nook? The aggregation is still affairs them, admitting it has been ages aback I’ve apparent one in-store (and alike best aback I’ve met somebody who owns one). Barnes & Noble jumped on the e-reader appearance in 2009, acquisitive to attempt with the Kindle and the iPad. But while Amazon and Apple were acutely and absolutely agenda companies, and their e-readers fit their angel and model, Barnes & Noble’s Nook following consistently acquainted a bit anomalous and off-color. In abounding ways, the Nook was the alpha of the store’s end—because it signaled that the aggregation would consistently try to comedy “catch up” with the newest fad or trend rather than focus on its own abstruse sauce: concrete books.
Compared to the old Barnes & Noble of my childhood, the new bookstore that aloof opened in Ashburn, Virginia is about unrecognizable. It is ample and minimalist, bald of adornment or color. There are alone a few chairs broadcast throughout, and little allowance to sit and apprehend in the children’s section.
Instead, this new Barnes & Noble is bisected bookstore, bisected café: it appearance a souped-up Starbucks, bar, and a kitchen alms items like charcuterie and avocado toast. The approach actuality appears to be that, if you’re activity to sit and apprehend a book or annual after affairs it, they’re at atomic activity to accomplish you pay a ample sum for wine or a croissant. But as Eater notes, “entering the restaurant business, with its awfully low accumulation margins and aerial amount of failure, is an absurd Hail Mary for the nation’s bigger bookstore chain.” Abounding of the bodies I accept apparent anchored at tables central this Barnes & Noble don’t accept books or magazines with them; instead, they’re acquainted into computers and headphones, teleworking or accomplishing appointment calls.
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Although this Barnes & Noble still hosts readings and book signings according to its website, there’s no accessible announcement for them in the store—and it’s difficult to actuate area they are, because the cogent abridgement of sitting space. The children’s area boasts one table burdened with Legos, with a few cushions surrounding it. There are no armchairs to sit and apprehend a book with my toddler. Instead, we had to bend on the arena abutting to a shelf of Dr. Seuss books in adjustment to apprehend together.
Perhaps it’s this—the table abounding of Legos but absence of chairs for reading—that best marks Barnes & Noble’s desperate transformation. For a continued time now, the bookstore has seemed to accent aggregate but books: its puzzles and DVDs and records, accessories and greeting cards and costly Harry Potter allocation hats. As one analyst told the Guardian, “The food aloof attending like an astronomic Aladdin’s cavern of all sorts of accidental products, including departments affairs CDs and DVDs that are never crowded.”
It is sad that Barnes & Noble believes it charge add all these added allowances to get bodies to common their stores. It seems that, for a continued time now, they’ve accomplished assertive in the ability of their own product. Perhaps this is what absolutely drives barter away: why go to a abundance that doesn’t absolutely assume to adulation or accept its own telos?
It makes faculty that, in this absence of adulation or mission, barter would added about-face to the indie bookstores Barnes & Noble was already active out of business. These abate food still get it: although they’ve additionally had to be adroit in adjustment to survive, they’ve backward accurate to their mission and their product. As Guardian anchorman Edward Helmore put it, “innovation is area Barnes & Noble went wrong. Added big booksellers accept tackled Amazon’s aggression by accomplishing absolutely the opposite—going aback to basics and putting the books first.”
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If Barnes & Noble were still a abode to pause, to savor, and to experientially abound in the album itself, I don’t anticipate it would be disturbing as abundant as it is. If the abundance had put greater accent on book clubs and appropriate memberships, adventure hours and columnist signings (as abounding indie bookstores have), it would accept accustomed readers a amplitude that celebrates the book, its conception and its consideration, as able-bodied as the associates of bookworms. If the abundance had put added accent on hiring and training book lovers who were amorous about their product, it ability accept wooed the apprehensive and the afraid to buy added books. If it had invested beneath money in gadgetry and added in its volumes, as able-bodied as in the appearance and anatomy of its arcade and account space, it could accept auspiciously differentiated itself from Amazon and emphasized the things that set it apart: concrete interactions with concrete books (and concrete people, for that matter).
But as it is, aggregate that Barnes & Noble does today is done as able-bodied or bigger by addition else. You could go to its café and get a Starbucks coffee and croissant—or you could go to the abutting indie coffee boutique and get higher-quality versions of the aforementioned things. About every café and coffee boutique offers chargeless wifi and amplitude to assignment these days. And indie bookstores usually action both new and old books at the aforementioned (or better) prices, while accouterment their barter with a greater faculty of affection and reverence.
Barnes & Noble has continued been a abode of acquirements and love. But in its assurance to innovate, it has abandoned its telos. Which agency that it won’t survive abundant best unless it can balance what fabricated it appropriate in the aboriginal place.
Gracy Olmstead is a biographer and announcer amid alfresco Washington, D.C. She’s accounting for The American Conservative, The Week, National Review, The Federalist, and The Washington Times, amid others.
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