PaidContent.org reports Barnes & Noble had a bad holiday season. Sales were down in the stores and on the bookseller’s Nook e-reader. This, on the heels of the news B&N will close 15 stores by the end of the fiscal year.
Bad news notwithstanding, Barnes & Noble is still responsible for about 16% of the annual revenue publishers generate and publishers have aligned with them in their joint war against Amazon. If the chain book store is indeed on its last legs, there’s still a little time to reverse the trend. But if, as a recent Pew Report shows, e-book readers continue to surpass those reading literature in print, it’s likely that Barnes & Noble will morph into something other than its current form (as libraries are slowly doing) — or go the way of Borders.
As writers, the loss of Barnes & Noble will mean a radical shift in the way we promote our work and ourselves. We’ll have to invest even more time online, figuring out how to leverage the power of the internet / social media to better build and engage an audience, promote, and sell our work. We’ll also have to identify new venues and spaces to host readings and signings; which means we’ll be responsible for pitching to libraries, book clubs, reading series, and the like (which we already are), and may have to shell out money to reserve spaces like galleries and other non-traditional venues for reading and signing events.
The few independent book stores that remain solvent will become even more important, and competition to get on their shelves and in their spaces for author events will be fierce. In response, we may see indie venues behaving as Barnes & Noble does now — prioritizing marquee and celebrity authors over new and emerging literary talent.
I’m not against the increased work we’ll have to do as writers. As rigorous and competitive as it gets, we’ll still have it much easier than our medieval forebears who had to write and hand process the pages of their books. But what I am on watch for is protecting the climate that fosters new literary voices, and encourages the community to come together in free and inexpensive public spaces to congregate and consume literary culture. As aforementioned, Barnes & Noble doesn’t necessarily do the former, but it does do the latter.
While digital reading offers the convenience of portability and less lbs in your bag, the opportunity for human contact trumps these benefits. Connecting with each other, especially over our shared human experience will always trump convenience — as weighty as it can be.
Perhaps this is the way forward for an evolving B&N worth fighting for. If the 140 year old bookseller can figure out how to bring people — readers and writers of all persuasions — together for truly meaningful exchange (not just a glimpse of a celebrity author at a shuffle-and-sign), but true engagement around the issues examined in all the books on the shelves, I think Barnes & Noble will be here for many more years to come.
What do you think?