Space Ramblings

The Trouble with Barnes and Noble

It’s a little saddening that Barnes and Noble is being sold at a fire sale, just when its Nook has shown that B&N gets ebooks, much more than Amazon does. But Barnes and Noble comes with a lot of overhead, and the very need for something like the Nook, makes that whole empire of cozy wood grained stores look like dinosaurs. People haven’t stopped shopping at bookstores completely, but the internet makes it too easy to whittle down the cheapest prices and buy it online. And that leaves bookstores for book lovers on impulse shopping sprees, or people too old to buy online, and there’s less and less of those left today.

And if Kindle, Nook and the iPad really do change people’s reading habits, that means the bookstore becomes as obsolete as the record store. They might still hang around as relics, places where true believers find the good stuff and immerse themselves in the smells and sights of an old world media, but you don’t build an empire on that. Which makes Barnes and Noble suddenly look a lot like Tower Records or Blockbuster Video.

But the fire sale might be premature. The eBook revolution hasn’t really proven itself, and people are still buying books. But internet discounting puts the ball in Amazon’s court. The Kindle was Amazon’s nuclear weapon, but it’s also bound to kill it in the long run. Because an eBook market makes it too easy to bypass Amazon too. Amazon wanted to forestall another iTunes, and it did get there ahead of Apple. But the real story might be that the lack of an iTunes, a central book store and reader, will put the initiative in the hands of publishing companies and high profile writers worried about the same internet price erosion that helped take down B&N.

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