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16 September 2010

So, How Does It Feel?

When I came across the title of this item in Crain's New York: Barnes & Noble closing UWS store, my first reaction was, BN is closing a university branch? New Yorkers, gotta luv 'em. "UWS" = Upper West Side.  This bricks-and-mortar branch is one of Barnes & Noble's largest in NYC.

Walt Mossberg of Wall Street Journal has been testing ebook reading apps available on Apple's iPad.  I was struck by the dovetailing of pros & cons on a technology basis as well as how the experience relates to reading printed, bound books.

The "printed" version of the column (which may not be available to non-subscribers after a very short time) has much more than the video.  A line jumped right out at me regarding the availability of books through Barnes & Noble's Nook:
The Nook catalog of a million books is larger overall, but about half consists of out-of-print books.
This could be a major reason to access Nook products. Of course, all is not perfect in Nookland, as Mossberg goes on about the really annoying glitches:
But I found more limitations and flaws in the Nook app's basic book functions. For many words, the app lacked dictionary entries the others had, and books loaded more slowly. Also, one book I downloaded on the Nook app had the first few pages missing and another turned out to be a different book from its title. Also, its horizontal view didn't work for all the titles I tested.

I feel very conflicted about Barnes & Noble. As I was growing up in New York, Barnes & Noble was a... well, a very noble bookstore. The store (there weren't that many and they did not have nearly as large a real estate footprint as people know them to be today) near Fifth Avenue's big New York Public Library building was stuffed full of books. People were standing around browsing or outright engrossed in reading a book or climbing around each other. There were stacks of books everywhere on the floors and display tables (not tower displays, just stacks of books as if a customer had abandoned $700 of books he eagerly picked but realized he couldn't afford and a storeworker had not gotten around to re-shelving) and lines at the check-out counter. They had local television ads of people bemoaning the hardship of not being able to find a certain book and after their long-suffering listener states the obvious, they say, "Barnes and Noble, of course, of course."

Then, BN grew and evolved and partnered with Starbucks.  Then, it followed me to the Midwest.  I mean, when I first talked with my potential mate-for-life about opening a bookstore/coffeehouse, my model was not Barnes & Noble with a Starbucks inside, but Harvard Bookstore/Cafe in Boston (without the sandwiches).  It wasn't until we visited the Barnes & Noble with a Starbucks inside near Clark on Diversey in Chicago that Larry "got it."  And, when we pitched to bankers and potential customers in Dixon, Larry described our venture as "like a miniature Barnes & Noble."  Right at that time, Harvard Bookstore/Cafe announced that it was closing after 17 venerable years.  Saying "like a miniature Barnes & Noble," helped keep us going in light of seeing so many struggling independents falling as we were starting out.

And, I might remind you, BN had one of, if not the, first e-books, but that was way before readers' time of acceptance.  It knew what to do, but not how to do it.  And, that has continued to be the problem.  It's a major problem and with BN's struggles right now, all of us booksellers have a breathless, anticipatory monitoring of its travails to see if they mirror our own.  Books on First also would like to figure out an e-book solution, but American Booksellers Assn has yet to offer one.  Nor has Ingram Book Company, the major book distributor in the USA, and BoF's biggest supplier.  Ingram is the "warehouse" we tout, when we say, "It's in our warehouse; we can have it for you on Tuesday."  Ingram is struggling, also, but Lightning Print may be its (and our) deliverance.  (See my blog post of 6 Aug 2010, among others.)

So, how does it feel, BN, not to be atop the book world anymore? To me, it feels kind of sad, but hopeful.  C'mon, BN, let's be nimble.  Let's be a BoF, only bigger (and more profitable).  Books on First, of course, of course!

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