A few days ago, an editorial was published in the New York Times depicting the deep trouble Barnes & Noble is truly in and why, more than ever, the retail book chain needs to be saved. Across the web and the blog-sphere, writers and book lovers a like are urging that we need all that we can do to save a company that is literally the last book chain in the United States. There is strong encouragement now, to shop at Barnes & Noble more and support their future.
I must be in the minority because that is not going to happen for me.
I haven’t shopped at Barnes & Noble, really shopped there, close to 4 years. I used to work at one of their retail stores for a year and a half (I left in 2012) and no, it was not enjoyable experience. Apart from the people I worked with, I found management condescending and uncaring about their employees’ needs. Some of you might say that causes me to be bias and yes, there may be some small resentment towards the company. However, that has not influenced my shopping choice.
I’m not saying that I shopped on Amazon either. Working at Barnes & Noble and watching Amazon figuratively taking over the world, I appreciate small businesses more and try to shop at indie bookstores, the ones that are left anyway. By doing this, it really opened me up to another world. There were a variety of books out there that I didn’t know about because of the limitations Barnes & Noble put on their customers. An ideal bookstore would all the books of the world and logistically, that is impossible. But when I realized that Barnes & Noble could not give me that variety, I started to examine their other flaws, which was a huge eye-opener for me.
So, here are some of my reasons of why I stopped shopping at Barnes & Noble:
Like I said before, the quality (the type of titles they stock) are very low for me. I have a hard time locating the titles I want. They stock the big name authors, which I understand since those titles will most likely bring in the most sales. But for those who want a different variety or looking for something new are going to be out of luck. I feel I’m “encouraged” to shop on their website, which leads to me to my next issue.
Where have all the books gone? Some of the locations I have been to I have seen a lot of the shelves bear, huge bookcases empty, nothing like what a bookstore is supposed to look like. Apparently, there was a new policy implemented asking the stores to remove their frontlist bays, which created more shelf space. But it looks like it also created major gaps, space they just didn’t bother to replenish.
Lack of Focus
I think it is safe to say that Barnes and Noble has lost their focus for a really long time. At first it was cute, expanding their toy and gift section, developing a new recommendations, no harm, no foul. But a restaurant? When I first heard about Barnes & Noble opening a restaurant, I thought it was a joke. Why would struggle bookstore focus on building a restaurant? They’re either wasting time or just don’t see the effort in getting customers to buy books in their stores anymore.
The Barnes and Noble that use to be in my neighborhood, removed the DVD and CD area and placed a massive toy and game section. I felt like the book section got smaller and more attention given to items that were completely unnecessary. Their lack of focus was a turn off for me, which caused me to look elsewhere.
Everything is the Same
One of the things I love about indie bookstores is their book displays. There are always interesting, fun, entertaining and always pull me towards the books they are displaying. And there is always a personal touch. You can tell that booksellers were allowed to have some input into the structure of the display.
The displays at Barnes & Noble? So…corporate. All of our displays came from corporate and it always irked me that their ideas never curtailed to the community. Booksellers weren’t allowed to provide any input. All displays in all locations had to be the same. Having that attitude prevents customers from having a real “taste” of the bookstore. You might be saying that big corporations always stifle creativity in their staff, but that is not always the case. Waterstones in the U.K. started listening to their booksellers when they turnaround their business. And now they are thriving.
Most book lovers don’t have a choice. Barnes & Noble is the store where they buy their books. Unfortunately, I feel their pain. Barnes & Noble close the only bookstore that was not only in my neighborhood, in my borough as a whole. However, I am fortunate enough to go into the Manhattan and have access to an abundance of indie bookstores. Others don’t have that luxury and I completely understand their determination to save the only bookstore they have ever known.
But after listing all my reasons, I am left here pondering one question: why should I root for a bookstore that is in no way looking to save themselves? Barnes & Noble’s potential demise will be seen as the company getting a taste of their own medicine, for killing all of those indie bookstores of the past. Others sees this as a great opportunity to invest more in the American public library system.
All I know is this…the closing of Barnes & Noble may bring a little pleasure to my heart but still will be a disastrous demise for many literary communities that span from the big cities to small towns. “It’s in the interest of the book business for Barnes & Noble not just to survive but to thrive” is how David Leonhardt concluded his opinion piece. And there is so much truth in that statement.
But do Barnes & Noble know that?
Because from where I sitting, I see no evidence of that. When you don’t evolve, you get left behind. I see that type of future so clear for Barnes & Noble.
So why I don’t shop at Barnes & Noble? Because I evolved. Clearly, Barnes & Noble hasn’t.