Now that, if you can believe it, Barnes & Noble is the last chain bookstore left in the country, the role they once played as the villain of the book world has been reexamined. A lengthy article in this past weekend's New York Times describes the future of the book marketplace in almost comic-book-esque terms: a monster called Amazon threatens to suck all the joy out of book-buying and selling. Weirdly enough, B&N emerges as an unlikely hero.
Gone are the You've Got Mail days of B&N being demonized for pushing out indie bookshops. They're now considered the publishing industry's last hope. On Amazon, you generally know what you want, and make your purchases quickly and deliberately, whereas physical bookstores allow for browsing — the best natural marketing tool — which leads to impulse buying by customers.
"Without Barnes & Noble, the publishers' marketing proposition crumbles. The idea that publishers can spot, mold and publicize new talent, then get someone to buy books at prices that actually make economic sense, suddenly seems a reach. Marketing books via Twitter, and relying on reviews, advertising and perhaps an appearance on the Today show doesn’t sound like a winning plan."
And yet, the only way Barnes & Noble can keep up with Amazon is by investing in the same tech products many publishers see as threatening the traditional bookselling models. B&N's e-reader, the Nook, has taken some business away from the Kindle since its release, and the CEO of Barnes & Noble, William Lynch Jr., has poured money into the company's Silicon Valley base. Still, he (perhaps naively) remains hopeful about the perseverance of the book in its original form.
Sounds to me like it's time for a new movie about how The Internet Changes Things. But instead of a rom-com about an indie bookseller falling in love with a capitalist because of some mushy e-mails, it should be a modern western. Barnes & Noble's CEO from Texas versus Amazon's CEO from New Mexico! This town ain't big enough for the both of us! It's a good idea, damn it.