Noble in defeat
Part of the Zeitgeist entity once had the enormous privilege of lunching at the Friar’s Club in New York while sitting between the publisher of the The New Yorker and the CEO of the Barnes and Noble book empire. Zeitgeist begged the latter to bring the stores to the UK, but he said it wasn’t something they were looking to do. Archrival Borders did make the leap across the Atlantic, with unfortunate results. Now Barnes and Noble – which this week The Economist called “the world’s leading bookstore” is suffering a similar fate Stateside and is now up for sale, as Brandchannel reported this week,
Despite an aggressive move to compete with Amazon’s Kindle by launching its own e-book reader, the Nook, with branded e-boutiques in every Barnes & Noble store, the news that B&N is itself for sale may sound the death knell for physical bookstores of any size. Bittersweet, ironic revenge for Meg Ryan’s You’ve Got Mail character?
Zeitgeist has previously mentioned an excellent article written recently in The New Yorker that details the hopes and dreams the publishing industry is putting on the iPad. For booksellers, however, the matter is altogether different. Barnes & Noble has, like Borders and even Waterstone’s, slowly lost ground to its online peers – just as the retail ground of the stores was increasingly lost to magazines, music and DVDs – where people can either buy books through places like Amazon, or read equivalent content for free (the newspaper industry has suffered from similar conflicts). OgilvyIntel tweeted recently that Amazon sold more e-reader books than “real” hardcover books in the last 3 months.
Independent bookshops will seek to benefit from the fall of these giants, but it was giant discount chains like Tesco in the UK and Costco in the US that also helped contribute to their demise. BN has a history of innovation according to The Economist, “advertising books on television, discounting the price of bestsellers and forging partnerships with… Starbucks”. Continuing to survive will requite more innovation. But turning bookstores in entertainment hubs equivalent to an HMV has turned away the truly dedicated bibliophiles that kept those bricks-and-mortar stores going in the first place. As an unspoken rule, 20% of your customers account for 80% of your revenue generation. Barnes & Noble, like others, lost its core audience in a desperate chase for the masses, leading to brand dilution. And though magazine publications are very happy with the impressions and revenue they are receiving from the soft copy versions of their content currently appearing on many an iPad, for booksellers it only makes the situation murkier, as Brandchannel concludes,
[T]he very definition of what constitutes a “book” is redefining business models — and eliminating some businesses altogether — as a cultural and technological shift occurs right in front of our eyes.
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