The Future of Barnes & Noble–and what it may mean for media purchasing

The NYT recently had an opinion piece on the future of B&N. It calls the retailer’s death “plausible.”

It includes a fair amount of facts…and more than a sidewards glance toward Amazon along with US antitrust policies.

It would be a very bad thing if B&N goes down…

When’s that next Criterion sale going to be?

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Mike Frezon

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85 Comments

  1. Mike Frezon

    The NYT recently had an opinion piece on the future of B&N. It calls the retailer's death "plausible."

    It includes a fair amount of facts…and more than a sidewards glance toward Amazon along with US antitrust policies.

    It would be a very bad thing if B&N goes down…

    When's that next Criterion sale going to be?

    July and Nov are the normal 50% Criterion sale. Most commonly the July sale starts the Tuesday after July 4th though there is always a little doubt until someone at BN says something.

    40% off most Instore Bluray (sometimes DVD) usually happens around Fathers Day — the last couple have only been 1 week though some years it's run 2 or even 3 weeks. The "In-store" pricing in the past have included most items ordered through their store generated Ship to Home program which also allows the 10% Member discounts and possibly coupons

  2. They’re usually in July and November at B&N.

    Criterion’s website will do a 50% off flash sale a couple times a year as well

    I think, sadly, that it’s entirely plausible that B&N could go under. Publishers would probably prefer we buy eBooks because that format is cheaper to produce and ties the book to the purchaser – makes it more likely that your friend will have to buy his own copy of a book than borrow yours. And for retailers, how can they compete against a giant warehouse that can stock everything and get it to you in two days?

    I’m guilty of being less of a retailer shopper than ever in part due to that – I tend to want titles that while not completely obscure may not be in stock, and my experiences with checking stock online before going to the actual store rarely work out (website says it’s there; store says it’s not).

    And finally, last time I sought to purchase a physical item at B&N, I found that they were charging $20 more to buy it in the store than Amazon had it online and $15 more than the B&N website. And while I might be willing to spend a couple dollars more to be able to buy it right now vs wait for delivery, a $15-20 premium was just too much.

    It seems that a lot of retailers in NYC are just getting screwed on rent too. Their real estate (all retailers, not just B&N) seem to have been bought out by these holding companies that seem accountable to no one and continue to jack up rent beyond reason. We saw the first wave here of indie stores and restaurants being forced out when leases expire, movie theaters too. Right now it seems only the giant chains, be it restaurants or retailers, can afford that rent but I suspect at a certain point they’ll balk too.

    I used to love working retail in my college days but I just don’t know how retail survives in the long term in this environment.

    I’m also concerned that when the businesses go, the jobs lost won’t all be replaced elsewhere. I like the convenience offered by home delivery but I’m not sure we’ve thought out the collateral damage that would follow the widespread death of all retail business.

  3. David:

    That's information I never remember on my own…and yet I know I can always count on you to helpfully remind. Thanks. In fact, my wish list of new Criterion titles has never been longer than it is right now. I am now looking closely at the month of July!

    But my question in the OP about the next Criterion sale was actually meant to be rhetorical. So many of us count on those Criterion sales at B&N and look to B&N as one of those last bastions of physical media "window shopping." I hate to think we might lose all that.

  4. I’m curious what percentage of Criterion’s yearly business comes out of those two B&N sales. It’s the most high profile publicity Criterion gets for the year, and they’re not paying for the advertising.

    I can’t imagine that losing a retail partner like B&N would be good for their business long term. I wonder if that might force them into the more limited “we can only release whatever the studios can give us, in the condition they give it to us” model that smaller labels like Twilight Time operate in. When Criterion contributes funding to a major restoration, I have to assume they can lay out that money in part because they have other avenues of distribution besides their website that can reach more people. Without that…who knows what their market becomes.

  5. Josh Steinberg

    I’m also concerned that when the businesses go, the jobs lost won’t all be replaced elsewhere. I like the convenience offered by home delivery but I’m not sure we’ve thought out the collateral damage that would follow the widespread death of all retail business.

    You could also have said the same thing about the results of mechanization of farming. "What will all those former farmers DO?".

  6. jcroy

    Where else are criterion titles plentiful offline?

    In-store Criterion I don't think any National store other than BN.

    Bullmoose carries some if you happen to be in NH/Maine. Some independent stores probably still carry some (??Amoeba). I'm not sure FYE carries any at all anymore. Fry;s used to, but I don't think they do any longer

  7. Mike Frezon

    The NYT recently had an opinion piece on the future of B&N. It calls the retailer's death "plausible."

    It includes a fair amount of facts…and more than a sidewards glance toward Amazon along with US antitrust policies.

    It would be a very bad thing if B&N goes down…

    When's that next Criterion sale going to be?

    Very sad to hear about B&N struggling to survive.

    That's the Monopoly game of capitalism/debitism. At the final stages it all comes down to monopolistic market concentration, especially with insufficient antitrust regulation.

    Anybody from southern CA remembering Ken Crane's Laserdisc in Westminster, CA? Used to buy lots of Laserdiscs there in the 90's and taking home to Munich. (when widescreen presentations were usually limited to Laserdisc releases) Wonderful company, great selection. They also had to close down years ago after more than 60 years in bussiness with their electronic and TV stores.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/22/business/la-fi-0622-Ken-Crane-20100622

    There goes all the money:

    https://media.architecturaldigest.c…/w_670/GettyImages-927420710_Crop-for-web.jpg

  8. B&N is definitely not the cheapest place to get physical media or books unless there is a sale going on. But I would most surely miss i'ts demise (should it happen) as it's a great place to see in-store variety, the atmosphere and most importantly, in my personal experience, the hardworking, friendly staff there. It would be an even greater felt loss than when The Laserdisc Store/Place/Exchange (?) shutdown here in the Indianapolis area

    Regards,

  9. RobertR

    You could also have said the same thing about the results of mechanization of farming. "What will all those former farmers DO?".

    That’s certainly true, but I think the difference is, at that point in time we switched from an agrarian society to an industrial one. So, you went from the farm to the factory, broadly speaking.

    I’m not sure that there are new industries popping up to replace retail in that same way. If you’re a retail manager who has worked at a store for a couple decades, it’s not clear what would replace that. If the local B&N goes, other local stores sharing the same complex might soon follow. Then the local restaurant in the complex also goes because there’s no more retail traffic to drive business. And then, that town center is essentially dead.

    I’ve definitely seen this out on Long Island where I grew up and where my parents still live. And in NYC, where I am, formerly thriving businesses are forced out due to rent increases, and then no one can afford to the rent so they stay vacant. The holding company writes this off as a tax loss rather than offering a more reasonable rent, so you just have dead spaces where there used to be thriving neighborhoods.

    It feels a little like physical media is the canary in the coal mine. I love the convenience of online ordering and I love being able to press a button on my TV to rent a stream instead of going out, but I also used to love to spend hours browsing media in stores and that’s just not really possible anymore. It’s insane that I live in a city as large as New York and that there isn’t a great place to go shopping for discs here. And while it appears that UPS, for example, has added an extra driver to handle the increase in packages that has coincided with the rise of online shopping, that one job doesn’t make up for all the jobs lost to store closings.

  10. Years ago I became a b&n member and got front loaded with a ton of coupons which I of course used during the criterion sale.

    I would also usually get one, sometimes two 20% off coupons a month. I used those to order warner archive titles or the occasional great deal, like the buster keaton box set.

    And once or twice a year they would send out a 30% off coupon.

    A couple of years ago they stopped allowing coupons during the criterion sale. (Still a good deal though, so I can't complain too much.) And this past year ive only gotten coupons every couple of months, and they have only been for 15% instead 20%. And most of the warner archive titles I'm interested in are $21.99 when in the past bn.com had them for $17.99

    So combine everything, and since I have most of the criterions I want and get new ones during the occasional flash sale, B&N has become somewhat obsolete.

    And the two locations near me seem to have much more DVD than blu on their shelves, new releases at full retail, and a pittance of catalog titles, just browsing isn't even interesting anymore.

  11. Josh Steinberg

    That’s certainly true, but I think the difference is, at that point in time we switched from an agrarian society to an industrial one. So, you went from the farm to the factory, broadly speaking.

    I’m not sure that there are new industries popping up to replace retail in that same way. If you’re a retail manager who has worked at a store for a couple decades, it’s not clear what would replace that. If the local B&N goes, other local stores sharing the same complex might soon follow. Then the local restaurant in the complex also goes because there’s no more retail traffic to drive business. And then, that town center is essentially dead.

    I’ve definitely seen this out on Long Island where I grew up and where my parents still live. And in NYC, where I am, formerly thriving businesses are forced out due to rent increases, and then no one can afford to the rent so they stay vacant. The holding company writes this off as a tax loss rather than offering a more reasonable rent, so you just have dead spaces where there used to be thriving neighborhoods.

    People have always had the same lack of knowledge about what would replace the "old" way of doing things. Just because we don't "know" the answer (actually, we pretty much do in this case. The online model, or a hybrid of some sort) doesn't mean there is no answer. The bottom line is not "how many jobs does business X generate", but "how well does business X satisfy what people what", which is the whole point of being in business. If people truly were going to "miss" businesses such as B&N, it wouldn't be in the state it is now.

  12. SAhmed

    B&N is definitely not the cheapest place to get physical media or books unless there is a sale going on. But I would most surely miss i'ts demise (should it happen) as it's a great place to see in-store variety, the atmosphere and most importantly, in my personal experience, the hardworking, friendly staff there. It would be an even greater felt loss than when The Laserdisc Store/Place/Exchange (?) shutdown here in the Indianapolis area

    Regards,

    I could not agree more. Nothing beats browsing at a Barnes & Noble bookstore for a couple of hours. Take a book you're interested in off the shelf, plop down in one of those comfy leather chairs (if you can find one unoccupied) and read for awhile. Sheer heaven.

  13. It doesn't surprise me as Borders' demise surely helped B&N go long this long.

    Unfortunately, book stores will be a thing of the past like video stores although I have three Family Video stores close to me where I can rent new UHD BDs, but I don't expect them to last long either.

  14. sleroi

    A couple of years ago they stopped allowing coupons during the criterion sale. (Still a good deal though, so I can't complain too much.) And this past year ive only gotten coupons every couple of months, and they have only been for 15% instead 20%. And most of the warner archive titles I'm interested in are $21.99 when in the past bn.com had them for $17.99

    My usual plan is to get WAC during the 40% off sales using my membership and most often some coupons. Those aren't usually discounted for direct online sale, but using the Instore Ship to Home program around $10ea isn't unusual if the 15 or 20% coupons are available.
    Even without coupons $12+tax is simple. Even more important it allows about the only good prices on those WAC TV sets which virtually never are less than $25. Combining those sales with any discounted Gift Cards nets some shockingly good deals — 10% is pretty easy and during Nov there is often at least a couple BN deals fro 15-20% off GC so I try to stock up and I can never seem to buy enough to get through July.

  15. RobertR

    People have always had the same lack of knowledge about what would replace the "old" way of doing things. Just because we don't "know" the answer (actually, we pretty much do in this case. The online model, or a hybrid of some sort) doesn't mean there is no answer. The bottom line is not "how many jobs does business X generate", but "how well does business X satisfy what people what", which is the whole point of being in business. If people truly were going to "miss" businesses such as B&N, it wouldn't be in the state it is now.

    To an extent, that’s true, but I think there are other forces/factors in play in addition to supply/demand/desire for that service.

    Like I mentioned above, last time I wanted to buy something at B&N, the in store price was $15-20 more than the same item on their website, shipped for free. They’re charging extra in the store because of high rent from unsustainable real estate practices. So I’m being discouraged from buying a good at the store due to a greedy landlord raising rents to an unreasonable degree, not a lack of desire to buy the good at the store.

  16. The only things I buy from B&N these days are Criterion discs during the 50% off sales and magazines, because there are no more magazine stores in Manhattan. I don't buy books there anymore because the books I read now tend not to be at B&N, but they are available on Amazon. Besides, I've got enough books on the shelf (and in storage) waiting to be read to last me a couple of lifetimes.

    But when I bought books and discs (and tapes) regularly, I used to love traveling to stores in different spots in Manhattan after work just to browse, whether it was Coliseum Books at Columbus Circle (and later on 42 St. opposite Bryant Park); Virgin Megastore on Broadway/45th St. and 14th Street; Tower Records on B'way/67th St. and downtown on E. 4th St.; and…too many more to name. Now there's just Barnes & Noble on 5th Ave. and 46th St. and Union Square and Strand Books on 12th St.

    There's a Book Off on 45th Street with used books/CDs/DVDS and a Japanese video store on the same block (and my haircutter's on that block, too), so I go there regularly and I have reason to go to Union Square regularly, but there are numerous areas in Manhattan that I have no reason to visit anymore.

    And, yes, I do buy discs from Amazon once in a while.

    I had a FYE in my neighborhood that I used to buy from just to help keep them in business even if the prices were higher than on Amazon, but they were replaced by a Starbucks a year ago.

  17. Josh Steinberg

    To an extent, that’s true, but I think there are other forces/factors in play in addition to supply/demand/desire for that service.

    Like I mentioned above, last time I wanted to buy something at B&N, the in store price was $15-20 more than the same item on their website, shipped for free. They’re charging extra in the store because of high rent from unsustainable real estate practices. So I’m being discouraged from buying a good at the store due to a greedy landlord raising rents to an unreasonable degree, not a lack of desire to buy the good at the store.

    Some stores are apparently trying a new pilot program of PM their own site over the last month or two though I think you lose the 10% extra Member discount if you use that option. I'm guessing other coupons would still apply

  18. Josh Steinberg

    To an extent, that’s true, but I think there are other forces/factors in play in addition to supply/demand/desire for that service.

    Like I mentioned above, last time I wanted to buy something at B&N, the in store price was $15-20 more than the same item on their website, shipped for free. They’re charging extra in the store because of high rent from unsustainable real estate practices. So I’m being discouraged from buying a good at the store due to a greedy landlord raising rents to an unreasonable degree, not a lack of desire to buy the good at the store.

    It would be a mistake to attribute the decline of brick and mortar and the prices they charge solely to high rents. It would also be a mistake to attribute rent increases solely to "greed", but that's beyond the scope of this discussion. The fact is that the marketplace is changing for a number of reasons.

  19. Josh Steinberg

    It feels a little like physical media is the canary in the coal mine. I love the convenience of online ordering and I love being able to press a button on my TV to rent a stream instead of going out, but I also used to love to spend hours browsing media in stores and that’s just not really possible anymore. It’s insane that I live in a city as large as New York and that there isn’t a great place to go shopping for discs here. And while it appears that UPS, for example, has added an extra driver to handle the increase in packages that has coincided with the rise of online shopping, that one job doesn’t make up for all the jobs lost to store closings.

    I still miss J and R Music World which had probably the deepest catalogue of DVDs in the NY area. Also the large Tower Records in Lincoln Center and the Village. These places held more media than B&N and were my first places to browse back in the day. I still enjoy going to B&N for a coffee and biscotti but these days there is less media to browse in store. Most of my B&N purchases for media are through their website ship to store so I still get the 10% membership discount.

    Lately B&N has been promoting ordering online for in store pick up within one hour.

  20. So people here are upset that Barnes and Noble may go down because – they won't get the Criterion sales? Yikes. I think they're pretty much talking about brick and mortar here, not online. And anyone with a brain knows that the brick and mortar Barnes and Noble stores have been on the verge of closing for several years.

  21. BobO’Link

    Nowhere around here. If you want it "now" it's B&N. If you want to purchase it local, it's B&N.

    I remember the days when even Best Buy carried the occasional Criterion!

  22. haineshisway

    So people here are upset that Barnes and Noble may go down because – they won't get the Criterion sales? Yikes. I think they're pretty much talking about brick and mortar here, not online. And anyone with a brain knows that the brick and mortar Barnes and Noble stores have been on the verge of closing for several years.

    I don't think the website would survive the demise of the brick and mortar stores other than the current owners selling the name.

  23. I would miss the reader-friendly atmosphere of the place, with cushy chairs scattered around so you could sit and peruse books until closing time, if you so desired. And they didn't mind your reading the magazines, either.

  24. Several Barnes and Noble stores have closed down in the L.A. area in recent years. The nearest one near me is in Glendale and I don't know how much longer that one will be open. And not all B&N stores sell physical media. While it's true that most online suppliers are cheaper (although the shipping costs often erase the savings), I love the spontaneity, immediacy and spur of the moment impulse shopping at brick and mortar stores. I can take it home and watch that night instead of waiting a week (or more) for it to arrive and by then the urge to watch it immediately may no longer be there and it waits months to get watched. I loved going to Tower Records and browsing for hours and L.A. people may remember the great Dave's video store in Studio City that started out with laser discs and moved over to DVDs. They knew me by name and it was personal. Sadly, online shopping and the proliferation of chain video stores (Blockbuster etc.) rendered Dave's obsolete. Tower went under soon after as did Virgin. Ain't progress wonderful? 🙁

  25. Garysb

    I don't think the website would survive the demise of the brick and mortar stores other than the current owners selling the name.

    I certainly wouldn't automatically expect BandN.com to far outlive the brick & mortars either. I would suspect it to go more like CircuitCity.com did.

  26. The thing about Barnes & Noble going down is that the effect would be similar to what would have happened if GM and Chrysler had been allowed to fail: the entire supply chain would have been thrown into disarray. Without Barnes & Noble the entire publishing industry model would be obsolete overnight. In a world with just independent bookstores and Amazon, things change very quickly and probably not for the better.

    I currently buy around 80 percent of my books through Barnes & Noble, and probably 15-20 percent of my physical media (CDs & Blu-Rays. I usually only buy from Amazon if I've exhausted my other options — my reasoning being that if I want alternatives to Amazon, I need to support them with my dollars. Amazon has gotten too big, and if the Disney/Amazon feud has shown us anything, it's that it is not afraid to use its market share to intimidate suppliers.

    If Barnes & Noble does go out, I'd turn to my local independent bookstores, even if that means paying significantly more per title.

  27. The opinion piece stated of the Barnes and Noble survival plan "The company’s leaders claim that they have a turnaround plan, based on smaller, more appealing stores focused on books" so who knows if media will still be a part of the brick and mortar stores going forward. Smaller B&N locations already don't have a separate media section though all seem to sell at least some Vinyl LPs. Though I think if they eliminate the cafe and free Wi-Fi that would reduce traffic significantly.

  28. Our local Barnes & Noble is in the mall where our AMC is.

    Last June, I went in there twice. Once, I was really early for a movie and ended up buying a new hardcover bestseller for 20% off because it was there. Amazon had the same book for 40% off if I had just come home and ordered it.

    A week later, I discovered that a book I badly wanted, due to publish on July 4, actually didn't have a "firm" on-sale date and was already appearing in Barnes & Noble stores. I really wanted it, so I went out there to get it and paid full retail ($25.95) for the opportunity to read it immediately. If I had kept my Amazon pre-order of the book, which I would have gotten on July 5 due to the holiday, the price would have been $17.07. But I really wanted it.

    Also, recently, the AMC remodeled, and I no longer approve of their wheelchair seating, so I don't go to that movie theater anymore, which has basically eliminated the need for me to go to that mall.

    While I don't necessarily regret either of these purchases, it's hard for me to rationalize regularly going out of the way to the store in order to pay more money for books that I can get cheaper online without going anywhere. If I did that on a frequent basis, I would be able to afford to get less books overall than I am now since I get most of them on Amazon with discounting.

  29. I think businesses that don't meet consumer desires should be allowed to fail. That should be the consequence of not meeting those desires. Meeting them should be rewarded. It doesn't mean a given person has to like the result, but meeting consumer desires should always be the goal, and nothing should be allowed to interfere with it.

  30. (More generally).

    Even for paper books, over the past decade or so I've found the big box bookstores like (the former) Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc … hardly ever stocked anything I'm interested in. Only amazon seems to carry such titles.

    So I've had no incentive to even walk into an offline big box bookstore for many years.

  31. Their struggle isn't new. I do hope that they can adapt. I have found good deals with their coupons and still buy movies and cds there beyond the coupons if the price is reasonable, or close to elsewhere. It's too bad that their store prices can't match the online ones – use their website to help leverage physical stores. Each can help the other.

  32. I try to buy blurays at B&N as much as possible. Thankfully the one closest to me has a fairly large collection of blurays including a large portion of the Criterion collection. I've also picked up a few vinyl records there as well. I don't really buy books there because for whatever reason, most of the books I enjoy reading (when I have time) were published years ago and are either out of print or easily obtainable (Greek&Roman classics) from an independent book store (which trumps buying a book from B&N).

  33. BN dumped their store closet to my location because of a high rent, and yet this store was a big draw anchor for the outdoor mall it was a part of. You'd think the mall owners would have wanted to keep it there for the traffic it brought and given them a lease break, but they just went for the rent number, and now it's just another clothing store with a fraction of the traffic that BN brought. Don't get it.

    I just bought a hardback book on sale for 30% off (Jon Meachum's Soul of America) at the next closest BN about 25 minutes away, and then came home to find a 20% in-store coupon for BN. So, I spent 22 when I could have ordered it for 15. But so what. I had the book in hand and was reading it that same night and I want people to keep writing good books and stores to keep selling hard copies. We've all got to do our parts. After a while this whole need for a deal thing gets nuts.

    If you think about it, we spend so much time chasing a 'deal' to gloat or feel good about, we lose sight of the true value of the media to us in the first place. The ease and quantity of purchase reality has made us so discount or coupon crazy to the point where we talk more about saving a few bucks here and there than we do the content that attracted or inspired us in the first place.

    And we used to do crazy shit like drive an extra half hour to get a better deal at one location versus another, completely oblivious to the time and energy costs incurred. If we had spent that extra little time at our paying gigs earning more money, it would've more than covered the difference.

    We are a strange bunch. Someone should write a book about it.

  34. Hollywoodaholic

    And we used to do crazy shit like drive an extra half hour to get a better deal at one location versus another, completely oblivious to the time and energy costs incurred. If we had spent that extra little time at our paying gigs earning more money, it would've more than covered the difference.

    (On a tangent).

    Over the years I've gradually come to the realization that I was walking out empty handed too often, whenever I went on excursions around town checking out various shops for cds/dvds/blurays, books, etc …. After awhile it seemed like I was mostly wasting cash on gasoline, toll fees, parking fees, etc … without buying much of anything.

  35. Woolworths, Montgomery Wards, Circuit City, Tower Records, Camelot Music, Sharper Image, Borders, Blockbuster,….all places that I have great memories shopping in person and now..gone with the wind!

  36. atcolomb

    Woolworths, Montgomery Wards, Circuit City, Tower Records, Camelot Music, Sharper Image, Borders, Blockbuster,….all places that I have great memories shopping in person and now..gone with the wind!

    Sam The Record Man, A&A Records & Tapes, CD Plus, and so many others now all but fading memories of a bygone youth!

    CHEERS! 🙂

  37. Same can be said of any brand/company of yesteryear that is no longer in use or a shadow of its former self.

    In the computers workstations of yesteryear, there was: Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, DEC, Nextstep, etc …

  38. jcroy

    Same can be said of any brand/company of yesteryear that is no longer in use or a shadow of its former self.

    In the computers workstations of yesteryear, there was: Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, DEC, Nextstep, etc …

    The difference is that other tech companies rose up to take their place. If Barnes & Noble goes under, there are a lot of cities in America that won't have a physical bookstore left.

  39. atcolomb

    Woolworths, Montgomery Wards, Circuit City, Tower Records, Camelot Music, Sharper Image, Borders, Blockbuster,….all places that I have great memories shopping in person and now..gone with the wind!

    Sam Goody , Suncoast Motion Picture Company, Savemart , B Dalton, J And R Music World, CD World , etc . Depressing !!!

  40. I worked at a bookstore in the mall in my teens. Wonderful experience for me. As a result I love going to malls or brick and mortar stores. I started selling books, movies and music on eBay in 2006. Added Amazon and some other sites and it became a full time job. Now I can’t help but think I am part of the reason these stores are closing up. A small part but nevertheless still a part.

    2nd and Charles is part of Books-a-million. Almost the same a a BAM store but they sell and buy used media. Books, CDs, records, video games, etc. Obviously their model is working for them. They have been opening new stores every year for the past 10 years or so. We just had one open here in my town in an area that is the highest $$$ per square foot. I frequent these stores a lot. I find a lot of inventory to sell online. And occasionally I find something for my collection, books or movies.

    FYE is another chain I try to shop but their prices are usually too high for resale. On a recent trip I did buy the Blu-ray of Chopping Mall for my collection. Their price was about the same as Amazon and I just felt it was fun to buy it at a brick and mortar, in the mall to boot.

    I think there are ways for these stores to save themselves but they have to be willing to adapt.

  41. Vic Pardo

    The only things I buy from B&N these days are Criterion discs during the 50% off sales and magazines, because there are no more magazine stores in Manhattan. I don't buy books there anymore because the books I read now tend not to be at B&N, but they are available on Amazon. Besides, I've got enough books on the shelf (and in storage) waiting to be read to last me a couple of lifetimes.

    But when I bought books and discs (and tapes) regularly, I used to love traveling to stores in different spots in Manhattan after work just to browse, whether it was Coliseum Books at Columbus Circle (and later on 42 St. opposite Bryant Park); Virgin Megastore on Broadway/45th St. and 14th Street; Tower Records on B'way/67th St. and downtown on E. 4th St.; and…too many more to name. Now there's just Barnes & Noble on 5th Ave. and 46th St. and Union Square and Strand Books on 12th St.

    There's a Book Off on 45th Street with used books/CDs/DVDS and a Japanese video store on the same block (and my haircutter's on that block, too), so I go there regularly and I have reason to go to Union Square regularly, but there are numerous areas in Manhattan that I have no reason to visit anymore.

    And, yes, I do buy discs from Amazon once in a while.

    I had a FYE in my neighborhood that I used to buy from just to help keep them in business even if the prices were higher than on Amazon, but they were replaced by a Starbucks a year ago.

    There are a FEW big magazine stores left in NY (though I miss all the ones that Universal News used to have around town). Two are on 37th Street, one off of Fifth Avenue, and one closer to Seventh Avenue. And there's a small shop with a big selection on W12th Street and 8th Avenue. I like these stores because they get a lot of my favorite UK music mags like Mojo and Uncut before B&N does.

    But I miss all the old stores now gone : Tower, Virgin, HMV, and especially J&R Music World

  42. Garysb

    I still miss J and R Music World which had probably the deepest catalogue of DVDs in the NY area. Also the large Tower Records in Lincoln Center and the Village. These places held more media than B&N and were my first places to browse back in the day. I still enjoy going to B&N for a coffee and biscotti but these days there is less media to browse in store. Most of my B&N purchases for media are through their website ship to store so I still get the 10% membership discount.

    Lately B&N has been promoting ordering online for in store pick up within one hour.

    J&R was the best, especially when they had the basement video section, that as you said, had the largest catalog selection of DVDs and then blu-rays in NYC. Plus the music section was exemplary

  43. SeanSKA

    J&R was the best, especially when they had the basement video section, that as you said, had the largest catalog selection of DVDs and then blu-rays in NYC. Plus the music section was exemplary

    I never went to J&R. Why did I not know about the basement video section? How did that completely escape my radar? 🙁

  44. It will be very bad if B&N folds and if others follow it will be even worse! People will learn the hard way that it is better to actually own the physical copy of something instead of paying for a viewing license where you own nothing. Then every time your kindle or tablet dies you have to buy another one and you have to keep it charged or no reading. There is no denying the convince factor but that doesn’t mean your getting the best product and IMHO not good for society. I say this because people do not get out and interact with other people they just click the mouse or press the button on the touch screen and done. This is something that died with the death of music stores because you do not go to the store and look around or interact with anyone but instead now just pay for a license and download or stream it. I realize that there are some stores here and there but basically music stores are still dead. Society may have more convenience and be more connected via the internet but are at the same time getting more and more disconnected from each other every day.

  45. Garysb

    The opinion piece stated of the Barnes and Noble survival plan "The company’s leaders claim that they have a turnaround plan, based on smaller, more appealing stores focused on books" so who knows if media will still be a part of the brick and mortar stores going forward. Smaller B&N locations already don't have a separate media section though all seem to sell at least some Vinyl LPs. Though I think if they eliminate the cafe and free Wi-Fi that would reduce traffic significantly.

    The appealing thing about Barnes & Noble stores (just like with the former Borders stores) is their size and selection. If the executives think that we want Barnes & Noble replaced by B. Dalton (its smaller corporate sibling), they may find that the road to bankruptcy is a whole lot shorter…

  46. Yeah, the main reason to visit B&N is to browse the large selection. If they go the route of the small independent stores, where everything is full list price and most items have to be "special ordered", they may as well just close up now. I don't walk into a store wanting to place an order, I want the item in my hand now. I'm capable of ordering it myself, if that's what I wanted to do.

  47. Vic Pardo

    I never went to J&R. Why did I not know about the basement video section? How did that completely escape my radar? 🙁

    Oh man, you missed something good. When J&R had almost all of the block on Park Row, for several years there was one building that had 2 floors of music, and a whole basement area of DVDs and Blu-rays. They used to have a lot of good sales as well, often by label. Eventually, they consolidated the video area with the music section, before sadly, closing down forever….But for several years, it was good while it lasted

  48. I find that the blu-rays/DVDs/CDs, and for that matter books, that I want to buy are almost never at a B&M store. I will therefore not apologize for giving Amazon my business. They get other business as well, such as the shave cream I use (Gillette Foamy Lemon/Lime). I gave up trying after CVS in the next county, who was the only one who carried it, took it off the shelves. Amazon, of course, had it — 12-pack for just over $20. B&M stores generally prefer to carry several different brands of the same item rather than anything different. They have only themselves to blame for losing my business.

  49. RobertR

    You could also have said the same thing about the results of mechanization of farming. "What will all those former farmers DO?".

    No, it's more complex than that. Because when Main Streets and shopping malls don't have book stores (or record stores), it makes books and music seem less important because they're less visible. Kids grow up thinking that media isn't important because they don't see it.

    In addition, when physical retailers go under, it's not just their store that's negatively impacted (and their workers). Other retailers in proximity also have reduced sales. And once you have a commercial street or mall with lots of empty stores, it quickly becomes a ghost town. In addition, because there's more competition for retail jobs, wages decline and that tends to put more people below the poverty level because retailers get away with paying minimum wage, which in most (if not all) places in the U.S. is not a livable wage.

    My bet is that all the people who complain about the death of much physical retail are buying online. I live in an apartment building with over 200 apartments. We get 50 packages a day. Those are all products that aren't being purchased at local physical retail. In the coming years, I expect to see 30% empty stores on the shopping streets near me. We're going to be left primarily with banks, restaurants, Starbucks, fast food, drug stores, walk-in medical clinics and 99 cent stores. Much else will disappear. An article in the L.A. Times a year ago predicted that 25% of shopping malls will close in the next five years. E-commerce isn't the only reason for that, but it's a major reason.

    Now I don't blame the people in my building for buying books or records online because Barnes & Noble closed every store in my borough and there are no viable competitors anywhere near by. Personally, I think it's kind of shocking that in a borough of NYC with a population of 2.36 million people, there isn't a single decent book or record store left.

    Also, put a bunch of items into your Amazon wish list and use the Notes feature to track prices over time. What you'll see is that on average, Amazon increases prices. And while they have a reputation for low prices, the reality is quite different as an awful lot of product is sold at list price. As they put physical retail out of business, prices will definitely rise more.

  50. Thomas Newton

    The appealing thing about Barnes & Noble stores (just like with the former Borders stores) is their size and selection. If the executives think that we want Barnes & Noble replaced by B. Dalton (its smaller corporate sibling), they may find that the road to bankruptcy is a whole lot shorter…

    The fact is that both books and music are hit-driven businesses and these 20,000 sq ft stores are not viable in today's market. In a top location, a 20,000 sq ft store can cost $4 million a year in rent ($11,000 a day!) When I was a kid in the 60's, I bought my paperbacks (largely James Bond, Edgar Rice Burroughs and some classic horror) at a tiny 2-aisle bookshop in the Bronx. It was all I needed.

    With proper selection and buying, it's possible to have a really great media store in a small space.

    In 2017, the top 100 best selling Blu-rays constituted 54.2% of all Blu-ray units sold and 72.6% of all Blu-ray revenue. The top 200 probably constituted over 80% of revenue. You don't need to stock very deep to satisfy the needs of most consumers.

  51. zoetmb

    No, it's more complex than that. Because when Main Streets and shopping malls don't have book stores (or record stores), it makes books and music seem less important because they're less visible. Kids grow up thinking that media isn't important because they don't see it.

    In addition, when physical retailers go under, it's not just their store that's negatively impacted (and their workers). Other retailers in proximity also have reduced sales. And once you have a commercial street or mall with lots of empty stores, it quickly becomes a ghost town. In addition, because there's more competition for retail jobs, wages decline and that tends to put more people below the poverty level because retailers get away with paying minimum wage, which in most (if not all) places in the U.S. is not a livable wage.

    Sorry, I don't buy what you're saying. We live in an age where books (the actual text, not "paper bound together") are more accessible than ever. I loved reading as a kid. At my school, we had bookworms made of paper rings. Mine was the longest one. I didn't read because I saw lots of bookstores. I don't even remember seeing a bookstore as a kid. I read because I loved to read. If someone had told my 10 year old self "Hey Bobby, here's a device that you can hold in your hand. It has THOUSANDS of books on it", I would NOT have said "nah, not interested, because it didn't come from a bookstore". I would have eagerly taken the device. I read every day on the train to work, not because I spend hours in bookstores, but because a vast amount of reading material is so readily available electronically. If today's kids aren't reading, it's because of factors having nothing to do with the presence or absence of bookstores. For that matter, it can hardly be said that news is less important to people because they don't buy newspapers

    The same goes for music. Essentially the entire history of recorded music is readily available in a manner scarcely dreamed of decades ago. That hardly makes music seem "less important". In fact, we're in something of a golden age with respect to access to books, music, and movies.

    As for your talk of "ghost towns" and "livable wages", I think you're expounding a form of the Broken Window Fallacy. You point to the empty storefronts, which are very visible, and you say "see how destructive trend X is!", while ignoring the jobs created by that trend (I could cite many many examples of this sort of thing occurring in the past, and it's hardly made us poorer with respect to what's available to us). And I have to state yet again, no business exists to "create jobs". It exists to satisfy consumer wants. The desire for books, music, and movies is satisfied better than EVER. That's the whole point.

  52. I wonder what percentage of kids under 18 like to read today vs 40 years ago. I’d be shocked if they were even close. So many things compete for kids’ attention today, mainly internet/cellphones/video games. I’ve read Japan is worried about the future of their population because most young guys aren’t even interested in chasing girls, all they want to do is play video games.
    I’m no psychologist but it seems the very fabric of society is changing, not for the better.

  53. Jasper70

    I wonder what percentage of kids under 18 like to read today vs 40 years ago. I’d be shocked if they were even close. So many things compete for kids’ attention today, mainly internet/cellphones/video games. I’ve read Japan is worried about the future of their population because most young guys aren’t even interested in chasing girls, all they want to do is play video games.
    I’m no psychologist but it seems the very fabric of society is changing, not for the better.

    (Without getting into politics).

    I'm sure this is a concern just about anywhere, where the death/birth replacement rate is around 1:1 or worse.
    .

  54. RobertR

    As for your talk of "ghost towns" and "livable wages", I think you're expounding a form of the Broken Window Fallacy. You point to the empty storefronts, which are very visible, and you say "see how destructive trend X is!", while ignoring the jobs created by that trend (I could cite many many examples of this sort of thing occurring in the past, and it's hardly made us poorer with respect to what's available to us).

    Isn't it just as much of a fallacy to believe that current changes will continue to be beneficial just because previous ones have been?

  55. Worth

    Isn't it just as much of a fallacy to believe that current changes will continue to be beneficial just because previous ones have been?

    The change we’re talking about is occurring because of the process of constant innovation, of trying new and better ways of satisfying human wants. If people freely decide that the new way is better, then it is better, by definition. Some may not agree that it’s better, but other people aren’t obliged to agree with them. The worst possible thing would be to coercively prevent such innovation and prevent people from freely make the choice to embrace it.

    In what way are books, music, and movies not more accessible than ever before? How can such greater accessibility possibly be bad?

  56. atcolomb

    Woolworths, Montgomery Wards, Circuit City, Tower Records, Camelot Music, Sharper Image, Borders, Blockbuster,….all places that I have great memories shopping in person and now..gone with the wind!

    Comp USA, Hollywood Video, Sam Goody's, Sound Warehouse

  57. I thought Amazon was working quite hard to kill off Barnes and Noble and this was fully intentional. Didn't they also say they would open an Amazon retail store anywhere a Barnes and Noble closed it's doors at one point?

  58. RobertR

    The change we’re talking about is occurring because of the process of constant innovation, of trying new and better ways of satisfying human wants. If people freely decide that the new way is better, then it is better, by definition. Some may not agree that it’s better, but other people aren’t obliged to agree with them. The worst possible thing would be to coercively prevent such innovation and prevent people from freely make the choice to embrace it.

    In what way are books, music, and movies not more accessible than ever before? How can such greater accessibility possibly be bad?

    Depends which side of the fence you happen to be on. Ask working musicians and writers who aren't at the absolute top of the pyramid their take on it. The music and publishing industries have tanked in the last decade and the film industry is in in decline, as well. Television is booming at the moment, but that looks like a bubble that's going to burst sometime soon. We seem to be moving towards a world where jobs in the arts will no longer be professions, but hobbies for the already independently wealthy – and I'd argue that's a bad thing.

  59. I would also not be happy if B & N went under, BUT just this small thread shows the huge problem -in my opinion – this is mostly a “I shop there when Criterion titles are 50% off!!!!” conversation. I do this also, but outside of twice a year what does that say? Nobody here wants to build their Criterions at full price which what they are outside of the sale weeks In this day and age it’s no wonder they are in trouble.

  60. Worth

    We seem to be moving towards a world where jobs in the arts will no longer be professions, but hobbies for the already independently wealthy – and I'd argue that's a bad thing.

    It seems to me that what the film and music industry has done is follow the path that we as a society have been following which is to place financial gain ahead of all else. We are "jackpot" obsessed. Even film audiences today look at the financial take of a film to gauge if a film is any good or not. If a lot of people buy it it must be good, right? No, not right. However, whatever there is left of "Hollywood" would to prefer to put up big money on a sequel, prequel, or Star Wars film than throw a much smaller amount of cash at some new stand alone idea. They want to hit the jackpot and so does everybody else it seems.

    Rising rents are sending the retail industry the way of the dinosaurs. Kim's Video in New York, once one of the great places to shop for movies and music, closed their doors because the rent skyrocketed. They talked about looking for a new deal somewhere else but the store had already moved and thought the prospect was unlikely and even if they could secure an affordable rent it would not last long.

    The retail business is now based on trying to find a niche that works to support the rent. Something that people will go to a local retail store to purchase rather than just ordering off the world wide web. In New England we had a chain of retail music and movie stores called Newbury Comics. Now those stores are primarily clothing and knickknack shops with a tiny section dedicated to physical media. This was done because the owners of the stores felt they could not keep up with the ability to online shop for compact discs, dvds, and blu-rays. So, in order to stay in business they looked for a different niche they could fill.

    Most people no longer live in a way where they have "disposable" cash to spend on luxuries like music and movies. So, the purchasing of these items is more carefully conducted. People look for deals, wait for sales, purchase used media. Retail stores have to charge more because it costs them more to maintain an inventory and pay rent.

    People want to pay less for these things because what they earn no longer goes as far as it once did. I don't think human beings have changed in wanting to hear music, see films, be entertained but the world has changed in such a way that it now favors the wealthy and crushes everybody else.

    We live in a jackpot world of cash and prizes…

  61. Nobody wants to buy anything at full price anymore. I'm hugely resistant to paying full price for books and media unless it's something I've been unable to find after looking elsewhere, or I really, really want it at this very moment.

    I don't think I've ever bought a blu/DVD at full price at B&N, and I seldom buy books unless they're marked down in some way (such as at Costco or Walmart). Mostly I get them second-hand at Goodwill, the B&N used/bargain book annex, charity book sales, or the book exchange in my office.

  62. Malcolm R

    Nobody wants to buy anything at full price anymore.

    Nope, and one thing the internet did was make it really easy to bargain shop. You can different pricing on an item from hundreds or thousands of sellers in just a few minutes of searching. No driving from store to store. No getting off the couch.

  63. Worth

    Depends which side of the fence you happen to be on. Ask working musicians and writers who aren't at the absolute top of the pyramid their take on it. The music and publishing industries have tanked in the last decade and the film industry is in in decline, as well. Television is booming at the moment, but that looks like a bubble that's going to burst sometime soon. We seem to be moving towards a world where jobs in the arts will no longer be professions, but hobbies for the already independently wealthy – and I'd argue that's a bad thing. But then, every revolution has its victims.

    Again, you place the emphasis on jobs, not whether human wants are being satisfied. Is plenty of music, television, movies, and writing available to people? Yes, more so than EVER before, yet you seem to be contending that that’s somehow a bad thing. The quality of some of today’s creative output and its effect on how popular it is can be debated, but that’s a different discussion having nothing to do with technical innovation, which hardly repeals Sturgeon’s Law. You seem to be implying that technical innovation will bring about the end of writing, music, and TV and movie production, an apocalyptic prediction that’s unsupported (classical radio station KUSC does plenty of interviews with bright young musicians who show no signs of thinking that what they enjoy doing will just be a “hobby”).

    As for saying that revolutions have “victims”, you’ll excuse me for not worrying that there were “victims” of the change from candles to gas lighting, from gas lighting to electric, from horses to automobiles (large cities used to be covered in thousands of tons of horse dung), from typewriters to computers, etc . etc. etc. The alternative to such innovations would be to attempt to “freeze” the economy at some arbitrary point, a policy which would condemn us to enormous stagnation and impoverishment.

  64. So many thoughts from reading this post, especially since I am coming home from the Strand, where I sold a few unwanted books I inherited, and 10 cds I purchased years ago but never opened. Then I walked to Barnes and Noble since members get 20% off their entire purchase this weekend!

    Yes, I could have ordered the 3 books I bought online, but a) Amazon's poor packaging always bangs up my books and b) I love to get off the couch and leave the house to shop, especially since the Farmer's Market was in Union Square today!

    As I look around this N train, everybody is on their phone, but the ones closest to me seem to be playing video games. As usual. My guess is that few are accessing that aforementioned great supply of music and literature in their hand. This IS a change from days gone bye, as I am old enough to recall being on the same train and noticing almost 20 people simultaneously reading the hardcover of Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe, (R.I.P.)

  65. The "N" is my train!

    I don't often see an entire train reading anymore — but every now and then, it'll happen. Whenever there's a new Harry Potter book I'd see everyone reading it. When the published version of the Harry Potter play came out a year or two ago, I would see tons of people on the train reading that. But you're right, I can't think of a more recent time when I saw that many people reading the same thing in the same space.

  66. Josh Steinberg

    But you're right, I can't think of a more recent time when I saw that many people reading the same thing in the same space.

    Back in the day when I was young, I remember seeing many people read The Thorn Birds on the bus or underground.

    After that, there was less and less "uniformity" in books I recall seeing. (I didn't use the bus or underground as much over the years).

  67. RobertR

    Sorry, I don't buy what you're saying. We live in an age where books (the actual text, not "paper bound together") are more accessible than ever. I loved reading as a kid. At my school, we had bookworms made of paper rings. Mine was the longest one. I didn't read because I saw lots of bookstores. I don't even remember seeing a bookstore as a kid. I read because I loved to read. If someone had told my 10 year old self "Hey Bobby, here's a device that you can hold in your hand. It has THOUSANDS of books on it", I would NOT have said "nah, not interested, because it didn't come from a bookstore". I would have eagerly taken the device. I read every day on the train to work, not because I spend hours in bookstores, but because a vast amount of reading material is so readily available electronically. If today's kids aren't reading, it's because of factors having nothing to do with the presence or absence of bookstores. For that matter, it can hardly be said that news is less important to people because they don't buy newspapers

    The same goes for music. Essentially the entire history of recorded music is readily available in a manner scarcely dreamed of decades ago. That hardly makes music seem "less important". In fact, we're in something of a golden age with respect to access to books, music, and movies.

    As for your talk of "ghost towns" and "livable wages", I think you're expounding a form of the Broken Window Fallacy. You point to the empty storefronts, which are very visible, and you say "see how destructive trend X is!", while ignoring the jobs created by that trend (I could cite many many examples of this sort of thing occurring in the past, and it's hardly made us poorer with respect to what's available to us). And I have to state yet again, no business exists to "create jobs". It exists to satisfy consumer wants. The desire for books, music, and movies is satisfied better than EVER. That's the whole point.

    Your own experience is nice, and somewhat similar to mine except that physical media stores were extremely important to my love for reading and music, but anecdotal. The massive accessibility to books and music has not increased demand. U.S. book consumption has been flat over the last few years (which means per capita has declined since the population has increased) and music consumption is in massive decline. (I'm not claiming a direct relationship between the increased accessibility to media and the decline in reading and music consumption as there are certainly other factors, like the dumbing down of America and incredibly bad commercial music radio, but I will still maintain that the dearth of physical retail is a factor). All you have to do is to look at book and record sales (including streaming and e-books) in the U.S. E-book sales are actually in decline from both a user and a penetration rate. According to Statista, there were 91.9 million U.S. e-book users in 2016 and that's expected to decline to 87.8 million by 2022, decreasing the penetration rate from 28.4% to 26.1%. One of the things that's helped to kill B&N was the failure of their e-book reader.

    The U.S. record industry was $8.723 billion in 2017 (including downloading, streaming and Sound Exchange royalty revenue). It was $14.6 billion in 1999 and that's not even adjusting for inflation. That $14.6 is the equivalent of $21.8 billion in current dollars so the music industry is at the equivalent of 40% of its former peak. Availability isn't helping it – it's killing it.

    Another factor is that music and video are hit-driven businesses, so while massive accessibility to deep inventory sounds great, it doesn't really have a practical effect. The top X titles take a vast majority of the revenue, so while deep inventory sounds wonderful and I certainly appreciated large book and record stores, you actually don't need very many titles to service most of the needs of consumers. Most of Amazon's stock doesn't sell at all and one day they're going to wake up to the fact that they're spending enormous amounts of money on warehouse space for products that never leave the warehouse.

    In the physical video industry, just looking at Blu-ray and UHD, in 2017, the top 100 titles took 54.2% of all industry units and 72.6% of all industry revenue. Extrapolating, 300 titles could probably get to 77% of all industry units sold and amazingly close to 100% of industry revenue. This is no surprise as an even far smaller number of theatrical releases take most of the tickets and revenue.

  68. zoetmb

    Another factor is that music and video are hit-driven businesses, so while massive accessibility to deep inventory sounds great, it doesn't really have a practical effect. The top X titles take a vast majority of the revenue, so while deep inventory sounds wonderful and I certainly appreciated large book and record stores, you actually don't need very many titles to service most of the needs of consumers. Most of Amazon's stock doesn't sell at all and one day they're going to wake up to the fact that they're spending enormous amounts of money on warehouse space for products that never leave the warehouse.

    At times I wonder whether the first week sales is the most important for a new dvd/bluray release.

    After that it just collects dust?

  69. In the case of music, at times I wonder how much the major record companies are actually making from all those $5 dump bin catalog cds such as Michael Jackson, Guns N Roses, Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol, etc … at wallyworld, etc …

    I suppose one could ask the same question of all those $5 catalog movie dvds (or blurays).

  70. zoetmb

    Your own experience is nice, and somewhat similar to mine except that physical media stores were extremely important to my love for reading and music, but anecdotal.

    My experience is anecdotal, but it stands to reason that kids wouldn’t get into reading lots of books because of the prominent presence of bookstores. Their initial exposure is via school and libraries. It’s not as if kids just starting to read are the primary purchasing demographic for bookstores. They simply can’t afford to buy a lot of books. I’ve seen no evidence that the number of libraries has declined.

    The massive accessibility to books and music has not increased demand. U.S. book consumption has been flat over the last few years (which means per capita has declined since the population has increased) and music consumption is in massive decline. (I'm not claiming a direct relationship between the increased accessibility to media and the decline in reading and music consumption as there are certainly other factors, like the dumbing down of America and incredibly bad commercial music radio, but I will still maintain that the dearth of physical retail is a factor).

    I think the factors other than physical retail you mentioned are unquestionably a huge cause of these changes. I never said that availability=demand, only that kids (and everyone else) have greater access to books than ever before if they want them. THAT is what matters, not how much money a given company makes. It just doesn’t make sense to think that a kid won’t be interested in reading say, Treasure Island simply because there’s no bookstore nearby. It would be easier for him to get it now than ever. It’s the other things vying for his attention that are the real cause of his disinterest, not the absence of physical retail.

    All you have to do is to look at book and record sales (including streaming and e-books) in the U.S. E-book sales are actually in decline from both a user and a penetration rate. According to Statista, there were 91.9 million U.S. e-book users in 2016 and that's expected to decline to 87.8 million by 2022, decreasing the penetration rate from 28.4% to 26.1%. One of the things that's helped to kill B&N was the failure of their e-book reader.

    The U.S. record industry was $8.723 billion in 2017 (including downloading, streaming and Sound Exchange royalty revenue). It was $14.6 billion in 1999 and that's not even adjusting for inflation. That

    $14.6 is the equivalent of $21.8 billion in current dollars so the music industry is at the equivalent of 40% of its former peak. Availability isn't helping it – it's killing it.

    You’re using flawed logic here. Correlation does not equal causation. There are far too many variables and potential causes for these changes to declare something like “the way to save the book and music industry is to save retail bookstores!” I think all this emphasis on physical retail as some sort of “salvation” of books and music has it backwards. A cartoon I once saw illustrates the point: One bumper sticker said “Buy what America builds!” The other said “Build what America buys!” Building lots of bookstores, or anything else for that matter, doesn’t magically create demand for them. What matters is what people actually choose to buy (or not buy), and how they buy it, not what others think they “should” buy or how they should buy it. Cable TV subscriptions are down, broadcast TV viewership is down. Is that a “crisis”? Should people “worry” about TV revenue? No. It just means that the market for TV is changing. People have greater TV choices than ever, just like they have greater music and movie choices. Choice is good. What people choose is a different discussion.

  71. RobertR

    Building lots of bookstores, or anything else for that matter, doesn’t magically create demand for them. What matters is what people actually choose to buy (or not buy), and how they buy it, not what others think they “should” buy or how they should buy it. Cable TV subscriptions are down, broadcast TV viewership is down. Is that a “crisis”? Should people “worry” about TV revenue? No. It just means that the market for TV is changing. People have greater TV choices than ever, just like they have greater music and book choices. Choice is good. What people choose is a different discussion.

    The issue is when market dominance leads to market distortions. Amazon can afford to outprice the competition, and as a result, sales flow to them. But once the competition goes out of business, Amazon can hike prices back up again. At the end of the process, consumers might be paying more than they paid before Amazon. So the company that's best at meeting short-term consumer desires might not be the best at meeting long-term consumer desires. But by the time we get to the long-term, there isn't any meaningful alternatives left.

  72. Adam Lenhardt

    The issue is when market dominance leads to market distortions. Amazon can afford to outprice the competition, and as a result, sales flow to them. But once the competition goes out of business, Amazon can hike prices back up again. At the end of the process, consumers might be paying more than they paid before Amazon. So the company that's best at meeting short-term consumer desires might not be the best at meeting long-term consumer desires. But by the time we get to the long-term, there isn't any meaningful alternatives left.

    I find it astounding and counter to logic to say that a company should be punished for lowering its prices. In the Alcoa Aluminum antitrust case, the government lawyers actually tried to argue that the company was “evil” for doing everything in its power to keep lowering the price of aluminum and keeping it that way. To say that a CONSTANT effort to lower prices is bad is little short of Orwellian.

    A frequent retort is “what about Standard Oil? They were evil! They monopolized!” The problem is that relatively few people bother to read the history of what actually happened. It refutes the “lowering prices will forever annihilate competition” theory.

    I’ve read about the history of the company. I quote from an article about it:

    The mechanism of predatory exploitation of consumers requires substantial monopoly power that is used to increase prices, thereby reducing the outputs sold. But Standard Oil had no initial market power, with only about 4 percent of the market in 1870. Its output and market share grew as its superior efficiency dramatically lowered its refining costs (by 1897, they were less than one-tenth of their level in 1869), and it passed on the efficiency savings in sharply reduced prices for refined oil (which fell from over 30 cents per gallon in 1869, to 10 cents in 1874, to 8 cents in 1885, and to 5.9 cents in 1897). It never achieved a monopoly (in 1911, the year of the Supreme Court decision, Standard Oil had roughly 150 competitors, including Texaco and Gulf) that would enable it to monopolistically boost consumer prices. So it can hardly be argued seriously that Rockefeller pursued a predatory strategy involving massive losses for decades without achieving the alleged monopoly payoff, which was the source of supposed consumer harm.

    The article further points out:

    predatory pricing costs the supposed predator far more than it costs the prey, who can further expand the cost difference by temporarily shutting down. Unless the predator is allowed to buy up a victim driven to bankruptcy, others can buy up those assets cheaply, thus allowing them to again compete with the predator and reenter effective competition. Without the ability to prevent entry once monopoly pricing is attempted, the monopoly payoff disappears. Because it requires monopoly power to finance predation, predation cannot be the source of monopoly power

    That’s not theory. That’s historical fact. Standard Oil’s market share declined PRIOR to passage of the Sherman Act. It could not and did not prevent competition. It got big because it was better, more efficient than its competitors. Again, it defies logic to say that such efficiency is bad.

    There are other examples, among many. Sears used to be the largest retailer in the US. Of course that meant they used their “market power” to stifle competition, right? Wrong. They’re on the verge of going out of business. Millions of dollars were wasted on an antitrust case against IBM, because it was supposedly an unstoppable colossus that would dominate the computer business forever. We all know that didn’t happen. Microsoft, one of the key factors in destroying IBM’s dominance, was itself supposedly evil (which should be considered ludicrous on its face) because it literally gave away a product for free (Internet Explorer). Of course, MS doing that HAD to mean that no other browser could POSSIBLY be available to people FOREVER, right? What does the actual history of browser market share show? Hint: It doesn’t favor MS.

    What people keep forgetting is that it is not and never was about keeping any one company in business or some predefined “optimum” number of businesses. It’s about satisfying consumer wants. The ONLY way Amazon can continue to dominate is if it KEEPS its prices low, KEEPS being efficient, KEEPS satisfying consumer wants. If it fails to do so (and/or some other company simply beats it at its own game), it will lose its dominance . If that happens, it won’t bother me any more than what’s happening to B&N. BTW, I mean that as a rebuke to anyone who thinks I say these things because I’m “biased in favor of business”, ignoring what I said in the first sentence of this paragraph. I say efficient, innovative companies that lower prices should be rewarded, and companies that aren’t those things shouldn’t be. I cannot fathom why anyone would think that position is wrong, because it is pro-consumer, not “pro-business.”

    BTW, there is one way that a business can obtain and keep a monopoly without being efficient, innovative, etc., and that’s by having government use its power to protect it for “the good of all” (which of course is just a smokescreen for favoring a PRIVATE interest). It never ceases to amaze me that so many people do an about face in that case and start extolling the virtues of keeping out competition.

  73. This is of direct relevance to me since a brand new B&N opened in my still nascent ex-urbs quasi-planned walkable neighborhood. (1L for those of you in NoVA, somewhat akin to Reston Town Center, only not high-rise oriented and not as big). It's the new store concept: smaller than the anchor stores at big malls, focused on books, with a continued strong emphasis on "curation" with tables in the entry space of selected books of various themes. I actually discovered a favorite author had a new fourth book in his trilogy. (Which I then bought from Audible.) It has no music or movies that I've seen. And it has a large section for a Starbucks / casual restaurant. The B&N also has a focus on events: a friend who recently self-published her first novel is having a book signing at the B&N this Summer, as part of the store's efforts to have community-oriented events.

    What does this mean? I don't know. I cynical view since B&N was announced was that it will be great to have a comfortable store to browse and read my Amazon Kindle purchases. This is literally realized when my wife has her bookclub in the cafe, and everyone has read from the Kindle version.

    But I wish the best for B&N. It's a nice store. I enjoy browsing and having a coffee. I've bought some gifts for kids there. And a couple of comics, as they've got a good selection.

  74. RobertR

    I find it astounding and counter to logic to say that a company should be punished for lowering its prices. In the Alcoa Aluminum antitrust case, the government lawyers actually tried to argue that the company was “evil” for doing everything in its power to keep lowering the price of aluminum and keeping it that way. To say that a CONSTANT effort to lower prices is bad is little short of Orwellian.

    To delve into this debate much deeper would run afoul of HTF rules. Suffice to say that I don't share your confidence in the self-correcting mechanism of an unrestrained free market, because I don't think it's possible to separate out the political or other outside considerations. It is the nature of being in a dominant position to use that dominance to protect one's dominance, and the moves don't just happen in the open where consumers can make fully informed decisions.

    Which isn't to say that Amazon is the source of all of Barnes & Noble's problems; it's facing headwinds that would have caused it problems regardless. It may be that there just isn't room for a large corporate bookstore chain anymore. But as someone who likes to browse the shelves, soak up the smell of fresh print, get tipped off about a book in the morning and pick up a copy that afternoon, I will mourn its loss if it does go.

  75. Adam Lenhardt

    To delve into this debate much deeper would run afoul of HTF rules. Suffice to say that I don't share your confidence in the self-correcting mechanism of an unrestrained free market, because I don't think it's possible to separate out the political or other outside considerations. It is the nature of being in a dominant position to use that dominance to protect one's dominance, and the moves don't just happen in the open where consumers can make fully informed decisions.

    The main point of my lengthy post was to show that the historical record doesn't support the theory you expounded that an unrestrained free market results in monopoly. It doesn't. It's a flawed and circular argument to say that the free market results in monopoly because of political interference, therefore we must have political interference. In other words, we must impose that which we agree it's bad to impose, and the bad effects of the interference will be use to "prove" that the lack of the interference is bad.

    Which isn't to say that Amazon is the source of all of Barnes & Noble's problems; it's facing headwinds that would have caused it problems regardless. It may be that there just isn't room for a large corporate bookstore chain anymore. But as someone who likes to browse the shelves, soak up the smell of fresh print, get tipped off about a book in the morning and pick up a copy that afternoon, I will mourn its loss if it does go.

    There are always going be changes that some people don't like. For example, I remember the MTV of the 80s with fondness, and I hated what it became. But I would never think of trying to prevent such change by force. I think the bottom line is what you said in your second sentence. You don't have to like it, but people as a whole are fine with it, and their wishes shouldn't be overridden.

  76. RobertR

    There are always going be changes that some people don't like. For example, I remember the MTV of the 80s with fondness, and I hated what it became. But I would never think of trying to prevent such change by force. I think the bottom line is what you said in your second sentence. You don't have to like it, but people as a whole are fine with it, and their wishes shouldn't be overridden.

    (On a tangential aside).

    Similar sentiments here too about music channels.

    When MTV turned to complete crap sometime in the early->mid 1990s (ie. the Real World, etc ….), I moved on briefly to the canada muchmusic channel where they still actually played music videos regularly at the time. This was before VH1 became my music channel of choice by the late 1990s. (Eventually VH1 turned to crap too).

  77. RobertR

    Again, you place the emphasis on jobs, not whether human wants are being satisfied. Is plenty of music, television, movies, and writing available to people? Yes, more so than EVER before, yet you seem to be contending that that’s somehow a bad thing…

    As with most major changes, I think its effects are both good and bad. The real problem isn't the domination of Amazon – it's the proliferation of pirated content and the rise of new business models like music and movie streaming services that pay a fraction of what the old models did. While it's great to have access to practically everything ever written, filmed and recorded, it's not so great when there are new generations who feel entitled to all of this content for free or next to nothing. It's going to be very hard to reverse course and convince them to pay for things that they've grown to believe have no monetary value.

  78. Worth

    As with most major changes, I think its effects are both good and bad. The real problem isn't the domination of Amazon – it's the proliferation of pirated content and the rise of new business models like music and movie streaming services that pay a fraction of what the old models did. While it's great to have access to practically everything ever written, filmed and recorded, it's not so great when there are new generations who feel entitled to all of this content for free or next to nothing. It's going to be very hard to reverse course and convince them to pay for things that they've grown to believe have no monetary value.

    Speaking in general terms, I would agree that someone who has the attitude that he is entitled to what others produce is wrong. I have to point out that such an attitude is the antithesis of favoring the free market. It's the old TANSTAAFL principle. But there's a difference between getting something for nothing and getting something for less. Really, does anyone complain about the dramatic decrease in, say, the cost per byte of computer memory? People are just going to have to adjust to a new business model, and not worry so much about the supposed glories of the past.

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