Barnes and Noble Used to Be a Bookstore

And the fact that it’s not anymore suggests (at least to me) that the franchise is dying.

Just last night, for example, I went into my nearby Barnes and Noble in northern Los Angeles County and had a look around. While doing so, I made a mental calculation of what the floor space was devoted to. Going counter-clockwise, here’s my estimate:

  • Entry: electronic readers; magazines; best sellers. (5%)
  • Looking right: Starbucks. (10%)
  • Center right and perimeter right: books. (15%)
  • Far back: music and movies. (10%)
  • Center left: mostly an educational area devoted to kids games, but there is also a line of books on the way to the toilets. The science section is back there. (10%)
  • Center: a teacher’s supplies section and a game section for adults. (10%)
  • Left perimeter: the children’s section. (15%)
  • Lower left: bargain books and reference. (15%)
  • Bottom left: gift area and cashier. (10%)

If anything, I’m overestimating the space devoted to selling books to adults (perhaps 40%).

Yes, I bought some things: A DVD, a box game, a puzzle for one of my kids, and one $20 book (The Quotable Thoreau, if you’re curious).

And, last week, I took a group of students to the Getty Museum in Malibu. On the way home I thought I’d get off the freeway and have a look-see around the Barnes and Noble in Encino on Ventura Blvd.

It’s not there anymore. The space has been taken over by a pharmacy. Only the Starbucks remains. If you don’t know the Los Angeles area, Encino is a place where well off people live; it’s a natural habitat, you would think, for a Barnes and Noble. But Encino commercial rental property on Ventura Blvd. must simply be too high to support a Barnes and Noble anymore.

What does that tell you?

Oh, and an employee who works at a Barnes and Noble told me something interesting: every time the store sells one of its e-readers (the “Nook”) it expects to lose about 60 in-store book sales that year. I don’t know how accurate a statistic that is, but it sounds plausible, and tells you why its dead tree book biz is so obviously in trouble.

Were he alive, Charles Dickens might say of books that it’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to Barnes and Noble Used to Be a Bookstore

  1. Paradigm says:

    It obvious that paper is a dying format for books and papers. No doubt even notepads will be in tablet form soon. Which is good for the environment since it means chopping down fewer trees. I’m definitely getting a Kindle in the near future. Especially now that public libraries will lend e-books.

    The problem is that people read less. There is no good substitute for reading as a means of absorbing information. This is very clear in politics where people vote for persons rather than ideas. Which is disturbingly similar to the cult of personality and anti-intellectualism that is characteristic of fascism.

    • santitafarella says:

      Paradigm,

      I can only speak from my own experience, so take this with a grain of salt. I’d bypass the Kindle and go straight for an iPad (which does a lot more). I gave up on the Kindle after using it for a month or two. I’ve since returned to reading paper books almost exclusively. I read Google books on the iPad (old, out of print books). Paper books are still far superior as a format for intense reading (as opposed to skimming or searching). I really doubt that a lot of genuinely sustained and concentrated reading is going on with the devices. You can read pulp fiction on them, etc., but it still feels to me like you need a book made of paper for study and contemplation. There’s something trivial about e-books. I do admit to reading a full book of Wallace Stevens criticism on the Kindle, but then I purchased the paper copy as well so that I could have a closer read of it with a pen in hand for marginalia.

      The whole e-book concept still seems to me a form of entertainment (which our culture encourages be done half-in, half-out of full consciousness).

      —Santi

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