RIP Barnes & Noble

Holy shit, that was something. I have no independent way of confirming any of it, but it sure sounds convincing.

I remember a time when big store booksellers were destroying the local bookstore mom and pop market. People decried the loss of local shops in favor of the big brick and mortar store at the shopping center or mall.

And now, we’re doing it all over again. It’s that horrible internet monster that has attacked the big bookstores and the market is doomed.

Nope, we’re just changing. The way we take in media has changed. The way we order things and get them has changed. Hell, the entire business model of most consumer goods has changed. This is part of it. Jobs are lost, people will have to find a new way to do things if they were counting on things to always stay the same. I’ve bought 5 physical books in the last 4 years or so, and three of them were for work. The other two were because I forgot my kindle for a flight. Those big stores and employees cost money. There just isn’t a market to make that money anymore.

I certainly feel bad for those who lost jobs and careers that were ruined. But they absolutely HAD TO HAVE SEEN the writing on the wall that is … internet commerce.

On the one hand, yeah, in the macro sense. Technology changes things, no doubt about it. Case in point, see the recording industry. But the real nastiness here is the way B&N seems to be going about it, that is, with zero concern for anyone or anything but the rewards for the top execs. Treating people like disposable fast food containers is not ok, no matter what the technology. It’s entirely possible to transform your business, even reduce staff, without being horrific and cruel.

I completely agree with this. Hell, I’ve been personally burned like this, in a layoff, where they had the doors locked on a Monday and a sign on the door of five locations that said, “call in to this conference bridge at 9:00AM for important news.” It was that the company shut all doors and ceased to be. Mass layoff.

But it happens all the time. Companies literally do no give a shit about most employees. The labor market means that there are usually replacements available. “But Bob had 20 years of experience, you can’t replace that!” Sure you can. Hire 3 younger Bob wannabes and let them have a trial by fire job experience. It sucks but the companies where this does not happen are the exceptions to the horrible rule.

In a few years we will have this exact conversation about transportation/auto repair and car dealership folks, just like book sellers. It’s happening.

B&N does seem to be at its end, but I will say that pretty much every employee who’s been laid off thinks that the company that did it made a huge mistake and will go out of business because of it. And I count myself among them.

Sometimes it’s true and sometimes it’s not.

I remember now: it was at the time i remembered being sympathetic to the publishers because Amazon was undercutting their entire business model. And, here we are, the largest (and often) only bookseller in the country on the brink. They may have been colluding, but Amazon’s only concern is helping Amazon. They’d be happy to kill off all print publishing houses entirely and force every author to self-publish on their platform.

B&N could shift away from big box store to small market analogue retro-futurist. Vinyl albums, artisnal coffees, only the best of the best on display.

I was in a library the other day and it struck how many millions of words had been poured out into books that no one will ever read, ever again. Libraries are weird things in that they tend to have a core collection of ‘classics’ and then fill up the space with contemporary publications, until they’re full, and then they start to ossify from that point on. Your local library is probably filled with books from the 50s, 60s or 70s that you’ve never heard of and will never read.

That’s a lot of B&N right now; tons of faff that no one will ever read.

Independent book sellers like i’ve been to in Santa Fe are packed tight with people, but they’re 1/20 or less the size of a typical B&N, they have a wall of contemporary literature that “everyone is talking about” (some politico books, Hillary Clinton’s post mortem, some books of poetry by Tom Hanks and Ethan Hawke), some YA lit that moves like hotcakes, a wall of contemp. women’s lit, and the classics. Everything else just doesn’t live there.

B&N could transition to that model but they’d have to completely divest themselves of their current holdings. And tbh i’m not sure that’s entirely possible.

It doesn’t matter if it’s illegal or not at the present moment. In the public interest it would be easy enough to pass a law against monopolistic trading if anyone had interest in the common good of the country.

Wow dude, you really had Amazon, huh? What crimes do you allege they are perpetrating on the book-reading public?

PS, I don’t think you’re allowed to pass laws that specifically target a single entity.

I don’t know how well digital is at getting people to start reading; I think that’s squarely the providence of good english teachers and your parents. But in terms of keeping you reading, that’s either used book stores, to allow you to pick up at a low cost and therefore low risk, or digital, where the recommendation engine and free chapters ease you into you next purchase with confidence.

I’m a big reader, but I had fallen off the bandwagon for a few years, and once in a while I would head into Chapters or B&N and walk out empty handed, too much choice and too expensive unless I already had an author in mind.

True. This is different from any other corporation how?

I’ve worked in retail all of my adult life both out front in stores and for twenty years now behind the scenes.

I think their firing of this many full time people is 100% about not offering benefits to their employees outside management. That’s the massive cost savings here, not the salaries. They don’t need to have anyone there full time for those jobs because the manager and assistant can train and oversee the part time staff assigned to those tasks.

I actually see them doing some smart things that indicate they may not be closing anytime soon. Fulfilling internet orders from your big store is actually smart. Each store is like a warehouse. It just so happens that you’re displaying everything for customers and they can walk in and buy too. The company I work for has been fulfilling Internet orders this way since our very first web site back in the early ‘00s. We lucked into it because they didn’t want to invest in or allot warehouse space for Internet goods. The difference here is that the store gets credit for the sales, so if you’re a good Internet fulfillment store, you’ll also get more orders to fulfill, and more stock in store to fulfill them. It works really well. You’re paying for the real estate, it helps advertise your business having physical locations, so why not use it efficiently as a warehouse of sorts too? Target is doing the same thing. Walmart is also. BOPUS - Buy Online Pick Up in Store is an extension of this allowing for more customer convenience alongside in store customer service to help build customer loyalty.

Now, what I also see here is as a public company, they have a lot of waste and possible corruption at the corporate level. B&N were the owners of Gamestop at one time (they owned Babbage’s and Software Etc. and bought Funcoland and Electronics Boutique) and when they bought EB, it was clear their management structure was very different from what those at EB knew. Leonard Riggio was the owner and CEO of Babbage’s AND principal shareholder of B&N. He’s on the list in the article @wumpus linked. He’s still Executive Chariman of B&N. It’s his baby. I also think since he left the day to day it has been poorly run.

Anyway, if you want to blame something, I don’t think it’s necessarily a foregone conclusion that they’re setting up to close all the stores for that. I really think this is an actual good shift in their business from the Internet side. You should probably blame the high costs of healthcare and how it’s impacting every single business in the US right now. Nationalize healthcare, and this sort of thing might stop. As it stands, most retail businesses will struggle to operate with that many full time employees.

You don’t get it. As is well known to economists, monopolies cause great damage to capitalism in general and to the capitalistic societies in which they are permitted to thrive. All that’s necessary is a general law that applies to this particular outrageously egregious situation as well as to others.

Recall that Standard Oil was broken up for market dominance long ago. AT&T was broken up in 1984, and it was a utility for which there was some argument to be made that it was serving the public good. Amazon as a private company is far more destructive than AT&T ever was.

I also agree that Amazon is destructive, but you can’t call them a monopoly yet. I don’t think it’s close. I expect them to slowly enter your neighborhood with retail locations of some kind over the next 20 years and if they buy Barnes& Noble and change the signage to Amazon Bookseller on the exterior? Yeah, you might have something then, but really only with books specifically.

You keep assuming that other people know just what the heck you’re alleging Amazon is doing. They aren’t a monopoly, even in book sales. Even if 100% of B&N’s customers went to Amazon they still would still sell only about 60% of books in the US. That’s not a monopoly.

Edit: Source:

With B&N gone they will have well-nigh absolute control over the domestic publishing industry and indie writers both. They will be able to dictate all contract terms with publishers and fix all profit levels, because there are no competitors large enough to affect them anymore. If you’re a Big 5 publisher like Macmillan, what do you tell Amazon when they come to you with new terms? That you’ll be just fine selling to libraries? If you’re self-published, what do you do when Amazon screws you over on royalties or marketing? Publish through your website or something? Come on.

Barnes & Noble didn’t collude with Apple. It was the big publishing houses.

But it was Amazon undercutting the value of books that made digital a better proposition for most buyers.

And that was totally legal.

And you think higher ebook prices would have saved B&N?

Well let’s admit the almost largest market cap company in the US that operates on a loss every quarter specifically undercutting your core business doesn’t help.

I think what is striking is the salaries of the CEOs. I am still surprised by how inflated those salaries are these days.

As for the break up of Amazon, there are a few interesting web series from marketing professor Galloway. He does weekly episodes about market value.