The demise of Barnes and Noble

Near the end of the twentieth century, there was a battle between small bookstores and the big chains like Barnes and Noble and Borders, typified in the film You’ve Got Mail.  The chains won because they had lower prices, larger stocks, and served as mini-community centers where people liked to hang out. It was sad to see the independent bookstores die but the replacement was actually a nice addition to the neighborhood. The Barnes and Noble business model was to create attractive places to spend time, with play areas for children, a cafe with ample seating, and racks and racks of magazines. The idea was that the more time you spent there the more money you would spend and it worked for at least ten years. Yet, at the height of their dominance, the seeds of their destruction could be plainly seen. Amazon was growing even faster and a new shopping model was invented. People would spend time and browse in B and N and then go home to order the books on Amazon. The advent of the smartphone only quickened the demise because people could order directly from the store. The large and welcoming B and N store was a free sample service for Amazon. Borders is already gone and Barnes and Noble is on its last legs. The one I frequent will be closing this summer.

The loss of B and N will be a blow to many communities. It’s a particular favorite locale for retirees to congregate. I think this is a perfect example of a market failure. There is a clear demand for the product but no viable way to monetize it. However, there already is a model for providing the same service as B and N that has worked for a century and that is called a library. Libraries are still extremely popular and provide essential services to people, and particularly low income people. The Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore has a line every morning before it opens for people scrambling to use the computers and access the internet. While libraries have been rapidly modernizing, with a relaxation of behavior rules and adding cafes, they still have short hours and do not provide the comforting atmosphere of B and N.

I see multiple paths forward. The first is that B and N goes under and maybe someone invents a new private model to replace it. Amazon may create book stores in its place that act more like showrooms for their products rather than profit making entities. The second is that a philanthropist will buy it and endow it as a nonprofit entity for the community much like Carnegie and other robber barons of the nineteenth century did with libraries. The third is that communities will start to take over the spaces and create a new type of library that is subsidized by tax payers and has the same hours and ambience of B and N.


One thought on “The demise of Barnes and Noble

  1. I used to have sort of ‘schedule’. Bike from adams morgan to U Md science library in the morning, then bike down to MLK library in early evening, and then go to AU library until they closed at 2 am, and go home.
    MLK was sort of a ‘homeless shelter’ in large part (and now its closed for renovation–MLK actually had alot of expensive current journals in economics and some science (science, nature, am math monthly, some famous books on math logic and general relativity; even an old copy of Hamilton on quaternions….) .

    I hear NIH is getting a gift of 20% budget cut. Maybe some less conference travel. CDC and EPA also get similar birthday presents. USA can’t afford the environment or disease.

    (My free sub to science has an article this week ‘when less is more’ (about chemotherapy). . (they even have the ‘lorentz number’–L=(pi**2)/3* (k_B/e)**2. Seems very intuitive. quantum transport).
    Perimeter institute may have rejected my paper since they said I had to rewrite the references in proper format. or (on ‘how can mindless mathematical laws lead to goals and intentions’. I said noone knows but here is my view. )

    PW Anderson had a famous 2 page paper in 70’s ‘more is different’. (so maybe ‘less is different’ if its associative.)
    (i’m going to Carnegie Science foundation movie ‘after the flood’ tomorrow assuming i can get in–i bought a ticket on line but my printer is broken so i’ll ave to ask at the door if i’m on the list. Michael Mann will be there, discussing hockey sticks. My nephew used to play alot of hockey–i even went to a game. .
    I think trump abolished global warming as well. You just need to build a wall along atlantic and pacific coasts to keep out the climate). (the person organizing this has a math phD from Cal Tech–unfortunately we dont talk any math on these events; no reimann hypothesis, just ‘nature’. ).

    Before the movie we go to a restaurant across from the B and N store at dupont circle . I used to buy a few things there (they even had ‘punk rock’ zines).
    Politics and Prose on Con(n) ave seems to be still operating. There is also ‘red emma’s’ in baltimore (where they recently had a shooting–some of their people got in a dispute–maybe trying to pretend they are in freddie gray”s neighborhood—can’t keep up with that–Baltimore had 40 homicides in first 5 weeks of 2017—i just looked at the list–now its 66 by late march—-JHU pays all those heroin addicts for clinical trails; supports the local economy ) and ‘wooden shoes’ in Philly (‘independent bookstores’ —or anarchist). or ‘capital as power’ ‘bitchler and nitzan archives’.


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