What does the sale of Barnes & Noble mean for them, for writers, and for publishers?

If the rest of you are anything like me, older writers have long lamented the loss of the great independent bookstores. The kind of place that makes you feel like you can actually smell the history written within the books on the shelves. Like a library where you don’t get shushed, or given that look ( you know the look I am talking about). Much of that loss, of course, was caused by the book mega-stores like Barnes and Noble and Borders.

Borders didn’t put up much of a fight when Amazon took over. Barnes and Noble seemed to try to compete with Amazon by providing a large selection in the stores, trying (half-heartedly) to embrace eBooks with their Nook, but also by filling half of their bookstores with things that weren’t books. From toys to games, even greeting cards, and coffee they tried to cover the spectrum… and failed.

We all knew that B&N was struggling, they have been for a long time. Some in the industry seem to think it is the end of the last of the literary behemoths. Others think it is a real opportunity (and only hope) to save Barnes and Noble.

Elliott Management, the hedge fund that took Barnes and Noble private, has a history that suggests that they have a game plan. After all, they have recent history in the surprising turnaround of Waterstones, a 283 store chain of bookstores in the UK.

Waterstones was suffering against the might of Amazon too. But instead of trying to compete with Amazon on their playing field, CEO James Daunt set about remaking the chain into something that Amazon could never be; a bunch of quasi-independent bookstores. He accomplished this by giving store managers the authority to be flexible and unique, to tailor their selections and even the look and design of their stores and create a unique atmosphere that ‘spoke’ to their particular customer base. No more cookie-cutter boxy modern, we-all-look-the-same, unwelcoming boxes.

Compare this to B&N, Mid-town Manhattan, Omaha, St Louis and Boise all have very different tastes, cultures, values, ideals etc. from each other, so why do the B&Ns all look the same? And, for the most part, carry the same selection?

James Daunt is slated to take over the Barnes & Noble business now. Is this the direction he will take the largest brick and mortar book retailer in the U.S.? Based on the comments so far, all signs point to yes. (Yeah, I just quoted a Magic 8-Ball, it happens.)

So, I know the headline promised a bunch of answers about what it means for us; writers, and publishers. The truth is that we don’t know yet. But there are a couple of likely/ potential scenario changes.

  • First, if all of the above happens independent authors and self-published authors will have a better chance of getting on more store shelves, at least in their local markets.
  • Second, publishers are going to have to actually do some marketing and work for their authors (beyond taking their favorite B&N buyer to lunch at the Harvard Club).
  • Third, could this be an opportunity for truly independent booksellers to come back and compete? I really hope so.

Let’s face it. Amazon is amazing for all of us, but wouldn’t you love to go do the groundwork and get your book into stores in your market? That is the biggest stumbling block for most authors. Perhaps this buyout will provide that kind of environment. Fingers Crossed.

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