Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beyond Books

It's no surprise that the big bookstore chains are leaving books behind. This has been a strategy for years. Amazon has been most upfront about it, but Borders and B&N are following the same trajectory. They come in, they discount books and give coupons so they can undersell the local independent, and then, when they've cornered the book market, they sell you stationery.

In an article by Matt Townsend at Bloomberg, the newest detail in this strategy is laid bare - pardon the pun.

Borders will now begin selling Build-a-Bear items. Yes, you read that correctly. So when you run to the bookstore to pick up that new novel everyone is talking about, you might just forget about it upon entering Borders and instead end up with a vente mochiato and Jimster, a specially stuffed bear wearing a gingham dress. On the ride back, you might realize your error but hey, did you really need that book anyhow? You can just wait for the movie version.

Sorry to sound bitter, reader, but living in a city where we have two amazing independent bookstores - Brookline Booksmith and the Harvard Bookstore - both a train ride away, but downtown we have two Borders and a massive Barnes & Noble, I'm very irritated to once again find this trend so visible.

One anecdote on this topic: a Facebook friend who works in NYC publishing posted about the bad B&N earnings recently posted, wondering how we could save "our industry." Read: crappy B&N earnings = people aren't reading. What's that now? Let's just say... simplistic.

I commented that B&N is turning into a mix of Toys 'r' Us and Best Buy anyhow, as I indicated in my last post. Someone else commented back, "STOP BETTING ON THE HORSE THAT'S ALREADY WON. the game has changed. there is fecundity in change." Note that this started with the B&N earnings report. I'm not trying to resist change, and therefore fecundity, but instead asking us all to question these assumptions. B&N earnings are more complicated than a single independent bookstore. There are executive bonuses, extreme expansion, all kinds of factors impacting their bottom line. If Amazon and B&N and Borders invest in e-readers and e-reading, does it then follow that all readers want to read in the electronic format? No. That's corporate forecasting, and I'm not going to have my reading choices dictated by it, nor am I going to assume that to be the only way forward.

These chain bookstores can morph into something much less book-related, but excuse me and people like me if we don't then follow the market without remembering what we like and what we don't like. I'm not saying I'll never read an e-book, but I am saying that I do not foresee getting a bear stuffed for my beloved at a Borders anytime soon.


Anonymous said...


CUTE!!!!!!!! I LOVE IT!

Biblibio said...

They're combining between my two favorite things in the world - Build-a-Bear and books! Nice.

On a more serious note, I think the problem arises when bookstores stop offering quality books, not so much when they start offering other things as well. I have long had a good relationship with Borders (it was the local bookstore where I grew up and served absolutely all of my book needs, cheaply, conveniently, and with a sense of kindness and familiarity from the staff) and a fairly bad relationship with Barnes & Noble (has always felt cold to me), but I wouldn't rush to define either as entirely forsaking books. They're amending their views in a way that isn't particularly pleasing, but even the indies follow some of these things. The Booksmith advertises popular-bestsellers-of-the-moment much in the same way that Borders does, the only difference is that it's on a smaller scale and that the store feels nicer because it's indie.

You're right that we don't have to accept the seeming market trends without pointing out dissent, but I'm still hesitant to assume that these stupidities - and they are indeed stupidities - are going to destroy bookstores as we know them. Things develop and change, but they don't necessarily spell doom.