Barnes & Noble R.I.P.

Founded in 1917, the venerable Barnes & Noble retail chain appears to be well on its way out of business. My assumption is that that is not their goal, but as best I can tell, they are just throwing the grease out in front of themselves towards retail death.

Ever since I grokked Amazon in 1996, I have gotten progressively less and less interested in walking into a B&N retail store (I don’t believe I’ve ever used their online store). I think today put the final nail in the coffin for me.

B&N seems to be working to transform themselves into a “new releases” book seller. To wit, my local B&N has 4-6 rows of books that are just gone. Poof. The rows aren’t empty, but instead are now unlabeled and filled with new release stuff and/or promotional stuff. I went in this morning to find a book that might teach me how to repair rust on one of my cars. I know I need to sand it down and apply some smart chemical-y things and then prime it up so it doesn’t re-rust, but damn if I know the details. Normally I’d dig this kind of knowledge up off the inter-tubes, but I wanted something I could hold and read, with lots of photos and lots of deep discussion on alternatives and so on and so forth – not just a bullet-pointed how-to list from ‘DentFixerJerry83’ on

This B&N store no longer sells any sort of automotive books, as best I can tell. In fact the entire row that used to house automotive books (and much much more) was stripped back and replaced with who knows how many linear feet of Twilight books and other related crap (what IS the attraction, anyway?). I hope whoever owns that brand is paying through the nose for the privilege. I walked all around the store – a few times (much to the chagrin of my kids) – and saw aisle after aisle that had received similar treatments.

Now I have no reason to beat B&N up for admitting they can’t profitably serve the long tail at retail. They can’t. Nobody ever could, and Amazon made that clear – as clear as an azure sky of deepest summer.

I know some of you reading this blog have never bought music, but if you’ll indulge me for a moment, imagine that people used to buy LPs and Cassettes and CDs at retail stores. Those of you with as much or more gray hair as I will remember a slew of retail music chains like Musicland, Strawberries, Sam Goody, et. al. The Musicland at the Natick Mall (back before it was the Collection, and when it was about 1/10th the size it is today!) got a lot of my lawmowing and babysitting dollars back in the 80s. Once I discovered Newbury Comics (though back then it required a trip from the ‘burbs in to Harvard Square or Back Bay), I stopped visiting the mall stores. Why? The only “long tail” I grokked back then had to do with pets and D&D, yet it was as clear as an unmuddied lake to me that there was no reason to pay high mall prices when I could get the popular stuff cheaper at Newbury while simultaneously gaining acces to a hugely more diverse selection! Never mind that going into Cambridge for the day was a great excuse to skip school 😉 . For the record (bwahahahaha), I’m still a huge Newbury Comics customer and fan.

In an identical analog, during the 90s we saw Waldenbooks and other similar (and similarly useless) mall bookstores behave likewise and ultimately disappear. B&N gobbled up or crushed them – and they deserved all the gobbling and crushing they got!

Now all indications are that B&N is working hard torepeat that history. I wish them luck.

Gotta run folks – time to visit with Amazon’s search engine…


  1. Will

    Makes sense, but it’s really too bad. There is something pleasant and relaxing about actually browsing books. It’s also WAY easier to select a good technical book (yes, car repair falls under “technical”) when you can see and feel the book. I frequently order technical books from Amazon that don’t cut it for one reason or another. The B&N magazine selection is pretty good as well, although I suppose that there are good replacements for that – most of them in Back Bay or Harvard Square, as it turns out.

    On a side note, have you noticed that Amazon’s prices on computer components often beat out NewEgg now? I just bought some memory from Amazon because there prices was lower and, with Prime, 2-day shipping was free. It was a dilemma, though, since the comment system at NewEgg is so good and complete, I want to reward them for that. For a few bucks extra, I’ll still go NewEgg, but for bigger differences, Amazon may be getting my component business soon.

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