Yesterday afternoon I had a couple of hours to kill and needed a free place to relax, so I headed over to the local Barnes and Noble. It was eerie. I don’t head to B&N as much as I used to. If and when I do, it’s typically on days like yesterday where I was really looking for an open coffee shop with free wifi. The added bonus of books to check out was simply that, a bonus. Over the past year my shopping at B&N has really declined. They rarely have the book I’m looking for in stock, and if they do I can usually find it cheaper online. Throw in the occasional sketchy service, and there’s really not a lot of draw to head to the store anymore, except for the rare occasion where’s there’s some free time to kill.
Evidently I’m not the only one who feels this way.
MSN.com posted an article today ‘3 Superstores on the Bring of Collapse’ with B&N in the top spot. In previous articles, MSN has gone into great detail about the problems facing B&N. Online shopping has made it easier to get physical copies of books with a much larger selection, cheaper prices and quick, reliable delivery. Digital books are making that process even quicker and easier to use. Add to that the cost associated with the amount of square footage that B&N owns and maintains, and it becomes very obvious why MSN is placing them at the top of the destined to fail list. Deep down, this shouldn’t really surprise anyone.
Back in the store yesterday, I started talking to one of the employees while perusing the art section. She was nice and polite, asking if I needed help finding anything. I asked if they had any books on swiss typography (art nerd alert), which they didn’t. She had this defeated look on her face and apologized. I explained that there was no need for apologies, I was just curious and didn’t really have high expectations for finding anything that specific in a store. She looked like she was going to cry. I asked her what was wrong, and we got into a long discussion about how fewer people buy books at B&N. Over the course of our conversation we talked about B&N and the decisions that the CEOs had made over the past few years that affected the actual stores and the employees. She loves working at a book store and is afraid of losing her job. I brought up the Nook and she started laughing, declaring it the ‘hail mary pass’ of the guys in charge to try and save the company. At this point I felt like a jerk for bringing all of this up, and apologized to her for doing so. She laughed and said it was okay. Evidently she got a Kindle last year for Christmas and has made the switch to ebooks, further contributing to the decline of B&N, so I was off the hook. I still felt bad, so I went ahead and bought a moleskin sketchbook (art nerd alert) and we parted our ways.
Barnes & Noble had plenty of heads up with the decline of music stores (RIP tower Records) preceding book stores. According to the employee yesterday, B&N chose to respond to changing times by saying ‘tv has taken over and fewer people are reading now, so we’ll make sure the ones that are reading, are comfortable.” Some stores started selling DVDs and CDs in an effort to appeal to outside interests, but at their core, B&N was about bringing people in to buy books. The thing is, B&N was way off the mark. A quick google search brings up plenty of studies that show more people are reading now than ever before. And the demographics that were more likely to read, are reading more than they were before. Innovation has made more books available to more people, therefore reading as a whole is on the rise. All the while the bookstore, a place built on reader’s is holding on for dear life. They focused on maintaining a comfortable environment for customers to come to them, all the while missing out on opportunities to engage a new generation of readers.
I feel for book store employees. Wondering how long you have a job makes for a tough environment. Having to apologize all the time can be rough. I can’t imagine a whole lot of employees planning on staying longterm at this point, and I hurt for them. Especially when the decline of the bookstore really isn’t based upon how much they love to read. I can also imagine the frustration of watching Amazon take off while fewer people are coming through the doors.
My prayer is that we in the church can learn a lesson from Barnes & Noble. That there will always be a desire to know Christ. May we be wise enough to allow for change and growth in our churches, so that we may always speak the truth of God’s love that is at the core of our being. I pray that we are leaders and innovators in our culture, and that we do not simply hold on to the past wondering what happened. May our creativity and our courage come from God, and our complacency and fears subside.
One love, one heart.