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Barnes & Noble Up For Sale, the Beginning of The End for Mega Bookstores?



The Wall Street Journal reported Barnes & Noble is putting itself up for sale so it can reorganize and figure out what to do as people are adopting eBooks at an accelerated pace. Barnes & Noble is largest bookstore chain in the U.S. with 720 retail stores, but it sounds like that number will shrink significantly over the coming years. I think Barnes & Noble’s woes mark the beginning of the end of bookstores as we know them. I’m willing to bet that in 15 years there won’t be a single Barnes & Noble or Borders retail bookstore left standing in the U.S.

In the (near) future, reading on Kindles, iPads, Nooks, smartphones and other devices will be the norm rather than the exception. Here in San Francisco it’s very common to see several Kindle and iPad users reading eBooks when I walk into a cafe. Yes, things are skewed here, but this area does tend to set trends when it comes to consumer technology.

Even though many people are already swapping paper for eInk, I think the mass migration away from paperbacks and textbooks will take 10 to 15 years. That might sound like a long time, but it’s not all that long considering we’re going to be breaking habits that have taken a lifetime to learn.

Think 10 or 15 years is too short of a time to get away from paper books? Then just consider how you communicated and consumed other forms of media in 1995. Back then I was in high school and most of my friends didn’t have email, much less mobile devices. Over summer we’d exchange addresses of our summer camps and communicate via snail mail. A few of us had our own landlines and even fewer of us were lucky enough to have pagers. I felt all was right with the world when my dad allowed me to buy one. My friends and I made trips to the mall to buy music.

Paper books don’t have a place in the digital future. Why? Money. They cost a bundle to produce, transport, warehouse, stock on store shelves and sell. Electronic books, on the other hand,  just live on a server and can be sold and downloaded repeatedly. A digital library can be limitless, while retail bookstores are limited by four walls and how much it costs to staff them.

As with all new gadget product categories, eReaders will continue to fall in price. There are now a couple of good options available for less than $150. By next year we’ll cross the magical $100 line and it’ll only go south from there.

Even though the writing’s on the wall for physical mega bookstores I don’t think we’ll see the end of specialty bookstores for a while. The pattern will likely follow the videostore and record store slowdown. Tower Records and Hollywood Video retail stores in San Francisco are empty shells in San Francisco, but there are a few record stores (yes, vinyl) and neighborhood video rental shops around. These small shops have small loyal followings, but the Barnes & Nobles of the worlds aren’t interested in anything small.

Do you think Barnes & Noble and other major book retailers will find a way to keep paper relevant?



  1. james

    08/04/2010 at 12:29 am

    For the sake of education, I hope that 10 years from now all expensive, hard cover textbooks will become ebooks. Many students can pay up to $400 or more a semester for their textbooks.

    • CHrisRS

      08/04/2010 at 10:32 pm

      I agree whole heartedly, but even so for elementary schools and high schools. Many schools provide text books for home use and have a second set available in the classrooms so books do not need to be transported and the need for lockers is eliminated.

      As a parent, I would not miss hearing “I forgot my book”

  2. sam

    08/04/2010 at 12:58 am

    As with audiobooks and video on demamd, I can envisage a book rental or book download on demand service where the ereader is provided free to consumers.

  3. Eve

    08/04/2010 at 7:52 am

    i hope B&N doesn’t start closing branches. They have (sadly) the best “public” restrooms in NYC.

    • Xavier Lanier

      08/04/2010 at 9:57 am

      I disagree, any good hotel in NYC has awesome ‘public’ restrooms. And you have some really nice hotels there :-)
      A lot of people like B&N’s cafes, some like free WiFi and apparently some people appreciate their restrooms. What about the books?

  4. [email protected]

    08/04/2010 at 11:35 am

    I know books can take up space and are more expensive, but there is nothing like grabbing a book, sitting down on a couch next to your library and reading a good book. Hard copy books have specific smells and feel different. I personnally can read for hours a regular book, but I can’t go on for more than 2-3 hours with ebooks. The black and white screens’ ebook reader are better in this respect than the ipad with the high intensity back lighting.

    • Xavier Lanier

      08/04/2010 at 1:16 pm

      I agree, eBooks don’t replace the tactile experience. Those who appreciate that experience should continue doing so and will become book connoisseurs in the future- similar to how some music fans only listen to vinyl.

      For me, there’s nothing like hearing about a new book, buying it immediately on my iPhone via Kindle and being able to read it on any of my devices.

  5. Roberto

    08/04/2010 at 7:20 pm

    I think there will always be a place like a Powells book store. Maybe even a few Barnes & Nobels too. There is just something about going into a book store with no idea what you want and just finding something interesting that is not the same as going on line to shop.
    That said if e-readers keep dropping in price they way they are lately, it probably won’t take 10 to 15 years to make a switch. I have to say the new $139 Kindle convinced me to buy one. I had a bunch of credit at Amazon so its only costing my $95, but I think if the price gets to $100 for one, the switchover process will go fast.

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