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Can a Bookstore Not Have Books?

Can a Bookstore Not Have Books?

It’s not only bookstores that are becoming rare. Books themselves are becoming harder and harder to find, even in bookstores. Barnes and Noble, the last of the mega-sized bookstore chains in the US, is planning to double the size of its Nook boutiques in 40 of its most productive stores. At its Union Square store in New York City, a grandiose 2,000 square feet of space in the front of the store will be dedicated to the e-reader.

Such a move is not a sign of a healthy book-selling climate. Dennis Johnson at Melville House says simply that “the company is making moves that are geared toward becoming some other kind of retailer, where books play a minimal role, and there are no brick and mortar stores at all.” Rick Aristotle Munarriz goes so far as to suggest that Barnes and Noble, like its now-defunct rival, Borders, is trying to stave off bankruptcy. Not only did Barnes and Noble not take full advantage of Borders’ demise, but the Nook “only had a quarter of the market before the Kindle dropped its price into the single digits and the Kindle Fire raised the bar on what a sub-$200 tablet can do.” That is, it’s not inaccurate to say that reconfiguring stores to give the Nook such prominent placement is yet another sign of how Barnes and Noble is trying simply to survive.

It’s beyond ironic, and a sign of the times if there ever was one, that survival for a big bookstore in the 21st century US  means selling fewer and fewer books. The Wall Street Journal cites a Barnes and Noble statement in  which the company says it will increase Nook space “without reducing the number of physical titles it stocks by using space formerly allocated for such products as music and DVDs.” But the retailer is also planning to increase “the assortment of non-book items it sells,” with another 1,000 square feet in more stores for its “toys and games offerings.” All of this suggests that Barnes and Noble is aiming to become a bricks-and-mortar equivalent to its online rival,, purveyor of seemingly everything (even books).

Indeed, a friend, on hearing of my son‘s love of sushi, presented me with a sushi-making kit bought at, you guessed it, Barnes and Noble.

While I more than appreciate the convenience of an ebook, there is something special about walking into a space filled with shelf on shelf of books to scan and page through. Books don’t need to “start up”: Open the cover and that’s it and, when the power goes out, you can still read (with a flashlight).

Over the years, seeing more and more shelves and then floorspace in Barnes and Noble allotted to games, toys and the like, I’ve already had a creeping feeling about the fate of books and the places that sell them. I’m glad I have a rich store of memories of roaming randomly in Rakestraw Books and Cody’s (on Telegraph Avenue). Both stores are long gone just as bookstores that sell books could soon be, too.


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11:15AM PST on Jan 21, 2013


7:13PM PST on Jan 26, 2012

Is there any other city where you can find bumper stickers that say "Keep "X" Weird!"? The X in this case is Portland (OR).
I know of no other city that has, as one of it's "must see" destinations, a bookstore. It's main location in Downtown, has rooms dedicated to different genres, each about the size of the typical B&N store. You can browse their collection on-line (including their warehouse), and purchase any book they have in stock. If you are fortunate enough to live in the area, you can avoid shipping costs have having the book delivered to the nearest Powells outlet (in my case, withing easy biking distance, about 3 miles). Want something that's out of print? There's still a high probability that they will have it in stock. At least half of their inventory is used books.

1:49PM PST on Dec 29, 2011

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I don't see how there can be book stores without books. Just what are you going to browse? According to Webster's, the main definition of a book is still "a set of written, printed, or blank sheets bound together into a volume." I suppose there could be "Nook" stores, but still, just exactly what would be the point? NOTHING compares to a book. Nooks and Kindles have their place, but just like computers, they're not perfect for everything and everyone.

7:07AM PST on Dec 26, 2011

The last book I read, CF 9 volume 1 by Ben Forta, was an E book

12:50PM PST on Nov 28, 2011

When my son was at the age when he was learning to make sounds, I put a chalk board on our living room wall so that eacch time he heard the word I wrote it for him. He's going to turn 21 in February and if his computer dies, he doesn't like it, doen't misunderstand me, but if there's not powerm he doesn't care. He'll simply turn to a book. He knows that thinkgs to have around as a contingecny kit, candles area heavy in that lift. What is life with lliturature?

10:47AM PST on Nov 13, 2011

shameful and depressing

8:16PM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

I've been collecting Star Trek fanzines for over 25 years and just found a treasure trove on eBay! It's a safe bet none of these wonderful stories from the '70s and '80s will ever be available on Kindle (or other similar gadget)! For those of us who have a home library... do you realize that we would be considered immensely rich just a few hundred years ago? Most people couldn't read, and even if they could, they couldn't afford to actually *own* books. Literacy is such a precious thing, and we take it far too much for granted.

7:29PM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

Well, I love bookstores, and have had to many times when out and with someone, told that person to grab my arm and pull me away, I just can't go by a bookstore without walking in. No matter what type of bookstore it is. It can be a dusty old closet of a store, I have to go in. Books are treasures. My dream as a child was to one day have a room in my home with bookshelves all around the walls, what a beautiful sight! There is nothing like holding a book, lying flat on your back in bed/on blanket in the park/on the subway, etc. and like Hannah S. said, "and how can people choose reading on technology when you have a nice paper book you can read without hurting your eyes or head." Just trying to read these posts, after a while, hurts my eyes. Give me a book, I'm happier!

7:31AM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

I think that what can't be lost are good stories and information and being able to read and/or write them. Paper or electronic, is just up to taste (although different formats seem more proper depending on different cimcurstances; reading a paper book novel is quite a pleasure, while for dictionaries, electronic is the way to go, as well as for limited space homes, or dust allergies).

7:22AM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

books are awesome, and no books in a book store kind of defeats the purpose of a book store it needs books. and how can people choose reading on technology when you have a nice paper book you can read without hurting your eyes or head

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