On Sunday, Apr. 29, as I was doing my habitual reading of the BBC World News Service webpage, I came across an article/video story titled “Australian pair keep book-making alive”—and it really got me thinking.
The story itself was nothing more than an amusing piece about two elderly Australian women who have taken to Gutenberg-style methods of book printing, sponsoring artistic stories about marginalized peoples from the colonial era (particularly the most impoverished of the settlers, the natives, women and the like). However, the broader theme of the story really got me thinking about something that I am quite passionate about, and that is the disappearance of the bookstore, and the potential vanishing of reading in print.
Now, anybody that knows me even distantly knows that I love Barnes & Noble—perhaps more than what any well-adjusted person should. I love to read and spend some of my time in coffee shops, and Barnes & Noble has always offered the best of both worlds (a bookstore and a café).
Especially since Borders closed their nearly 400 bookstores around the globe in 2011, Barnes & Noble remains as the only dominant bookseller in the business. Sure, you have some other companies that have a decent regional presence in some areas, like Books-A-Million or Half-Priced Books, but at this point, Barnes & Noble is carrying the bookstore through its last stand against online retail, piracy and eBooks (kind of).
Barnes & Noble has stayed in the fight much longer than most predicted it would at the dawn of the Amazon-era economy. The chain bookseller has proven its business savvy by adapting to the ever-developing digital age, becoming the major seller of Kindle eBook products and establishing a prominent online presence. The retailer has done an impressive job rolling with the punches in an increasingly unfavorable market.
Nevertheless, it is sad to me that one chain bookseller stands alone as the last of its kind in 2015. Although, cities and towns will always have their smaller, mom & pop style bookstore that sells used books, such a line of work is not remarkably profitable, and anyhow, those stores do not offer a comprehensive collection of nearly every genre of literature.
Barnes & Noble does, and that is why it will always trump your average locally-owned bookseller. I know that many will disagree with my rhetoric that favors the national giant over the small-town shop, but if you really think about it, Barnes & Noble offers a multifaceted array of benefits that such tiny booksellers rarely can. At Barnes & Noble, they have, always in-stock, nearly all of the most prevalent classics that Western literature has to offer, from Homer to Mark Twain. They sell books from all genres, from travel and libros en Español to the super-specific subgenre of Christian fiction. They alert you and dedicate a portion of their store to what contemporary writers are publishing, keeping their patrons aware of how literature is developing in the twenty-first century. Last but not least, they provide a Starbucks-sponsored café area where readers can sit and delve in to whatever book or magazine that has caught their eye.
Keep in mind that, throughout this article, I do not mean to keep any love away from the public library systems. It has always been very reassuring to me that there will be at least some sort of edifice backed by the federal government that houses books, magazines, newspapers and, more broadly, the works of our culture. But there is nothing quite like owning your own book. Holding and flipping through the pages of a book that you do not have return in three weeks just gives the reading experience a different edge. So, I guess that leads me to conclude that I am very thankful for Barnes & Noble. It seems as though it is the last significant bookseller in our marketplace. With luck, it will keep fighting the good fight.