Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Barnes and Noble, 105 Fifth Avenue

Yesterday, the Barnes and Noble on Fifth Avenue closed. I don't think there are going to be many loved ones at the funeral saying goodbye. This is the physical store from which the chain multiplied and grew into the thing it was at one point, a mammoth bookseller that with its steep discounting enabled by its bulk purchasing power and its logistics was able to kill of countless bookstores.

It also killed off a certain culture. There would be fewer organic bestsellers. Smaller titles that a particular bookstore, its managers, may have really fallen in love with and decided to promote with prominent space on a table up front - that that would not exist at Barnes and Noble where these decisions were made my corporate offices making the same decisions for every bookstore in the chain.

I don't think its possible to overstate what an impact that has on writers, publishers, and readers, that someone at B&N better like what it is you're selling and yet even more so they better like the terms you are selling it for, otherwise good luck even getting heard. A tree falling in the forest, no one around.

But, now, sometime after we have seen Borders disappear, which once seemed just as unstoppable, and after we have seen Gotham Book Mart, Coliseum Books, and numerous other bookstores disappear from the physical landscape of this city, washed away by the tide of rising real estate costs, Amazon, e-books, and various cultural trends that make reading fiction less and less that something does when one has a smartphone to stare at night and day, Barnes and Noble too seems on its last legs, a fighter still throwing punches, but which we all know is not going to win the match.

We have seen the disappearance of so many physical media forms as well as the outlets that sold these physical media forms over the past couple decades. I rode the train home today reading from my copy of the New Yorker and looked at the people across from me and next to me, everyone's face looking at a screen of some sort - an iPhone, a Kindle, an iPad, a Droid. I don't know where we are going. It could be a nice place. But I know there is something sad that the number of places is now smaller in which I can physically enter a building and spend hours looking at various books, coming across writers I have never heard of, ideas I never have, artists I never have, that this is a real loss, something that the Internet, for all its benefits, is not capable of replicating. I won't ever have a moment on Amazon where I see a cute guy looking at a book for a while on a shelf and then once he moves on go over to see what book it was this cute guy was looking at, what book it was he contemplated buying. On Amazon, I will never be able to buy that book.

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