It was almost exactly a year ago that I suggested that Barnes & Noble was going the way of Borders. At the time I thought that their clever Nook device might save them from disappearing altogether. I concluded back then,
It is fascinating to watch how the free market continues to test the abilities of major players to stay current and provide products and services which customers are willing to pay for. The free market is remorseless. It takes no prisoners. Barnes & Noble, along with its former competitor Borders, and Kodak, may not make it. On the other hand, if it does, it will be only because it has successfully navigated the treacherous shoals of changing market dynamics and fickle customer tastes, which reward the nimble and punish the inept.
Now, I’m even less optimistic. On Monday B&N announced the closing of a third of its stores. The chain has 689 stores now but still expects it will have 450 operating in the black in ten years. All this is going according to plan, says its spokesman, Mary Ellen Keating: “We have historically closed approximately 15 stores per year for the past 10 years,” and they will continue to do so. Translation: not to worry, we know what we’re doing. It’s all part of the plan: “The company’s management is fully committed to the retail concept for the long term.”
I think B&N will be lucky to survive at all in ten years. Their Nook isn’t growing fast enough to keep them afloat. Their big competitor, Amazon, has overwhelming advantages and B&N is very late in recognizing it.
I just gave myself a Christmas present: a Kindle Paperwhite. It allows me to download books instantly at discounts to the retail price. I don’t have to go to the store to hold them in my hand. Amazon allows me to download a sizeable sample from a book that I’m considering buying to see if I want to spend my money on it. I can access readers’ comments before buying.
I can’t remember the last time that I was inside a Barnes & Noble store. I don’t drink coffee. I’m a Type A personality. I don’t dawdle. I’m in and out. Don’t waste my time.
This is the competition that B&N won’t be able to overcome. I’ve already bought a dozen books through Amazon and my Kindle, and I’ve read half of them. I’m working on the other half and have samples of another half-dozen waiting for me. My bookstore is my Kindle. It’s not Barnes & Noble.