Barnes and Noble recently announced it will open up its struggling Nook platform to Google’s offerings, including Chrome, Gmail, Google Maps and Google Play, an online digital content store that will compete directly with Barnes and Nobles’ own store that is built into the Nook. However, Barnes and Noble won’t get any money from Google Play sales made via the Nook. And since Barnes and Noble sells the Nook at a razor thin margin, it has to be banking that a) it will now sell a lot more Nooks since people can access all things Google and b) people will choose to buy their content from the Nook’s built-in (and easy-to-access) store rather than using Chrome to browse Google Play. All of this makes me wonder if Barnes and Noble is long for this Earth.
And if Barnes and Noble were to go away, what would become of local bookstores? True, many, if not most, suburbs across America still have a local bookstore. But for many others, the local Barnes and Noble, which is a ubiquitous presence at upscale shopping centers, is the only game in town. And if it goes away, that would be a shame.
In a somewhat-dated article from 2011, Slate writer Farhad Manjoo argues that supporting one’s local bookstore is the wrong thing to do. He argues that while local bookstores may promote local s, they mostly sell the same books as Amazon does for about twice the price. And he’s correct that Amazon offers a much better model for buying a book—one gets readers’ reviews, excerpts and a good price, and with the advent of e-readers and tablets over the last couple of years, you can download the book in far less time than it takes to drive to the mall, buy an overpriced coffee and browse the shelves.
Sadly for bookstore lovers, he’s right. If brick-and-mortar music stores succumbed to online stores (which are now succumbing to streaming services like Spotify and Pandora), why should bookstores (which often carry music) be any different?
I offer up a ray of hope to local bookstores and the people who love the tactile and sensory adventures that they are: go local. Big, online companies stink at going local. Just as newspapers have found success in being hyper-local, so can bookstores. And this doesn’t mean a “local s” section in the back. This means only local s. Only local music. If it wasn’t written within 100 miles, you won’t find it here. Think of your local farmer’s market, but for books.
While social media has made us strangers to our next-door neighbors, it has helped make us more aware of what’s happening in our broader community, if not down the street. If a cool band is playing at a local venue or a new play is opening in the community theater, social media is by far the best and easiest way to find out about it. We just never knew these things were happening in the past, because the community players can’t afford TV and radio advertising, but social media is free.
We have discovered that our communities possess far more abundant and vibrant cultural offerings than we had ever imagined. So let it be with books.