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, Amazon.com, 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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