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The Slow Death of Barnes&Noble

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Barnes & Noble recently laid off 1800 employees.

This is one more step along its slow demise along with other “big box” brands being cannibalized by Amazon and other online retailers.

On Monday morning, every single Barnes & Noble location – that’s 781 stores – told their full-time employees to pack up and leave. The eliminated positions were as follows: the head cashiers (those are the people responsible for handling the money), the receiving managers (the people responsible for bringing in product and making sure it goes where it should), the digital leads (the people responsible for solving Nook problems), the newsstand leads (the people responsible for distributing the magazines), and the bargain leads (the people responsible for keeping up the massive discount sections).

I’m conflicted by this news, because I have something of a love/hate relationship with B&N.

Let’s start with the bad points first

  • I don’t ever want to see people lose their jobs. Ever.
  • B&N handled this really poorly. Not unexpected from a large corporation, but still not right.
  • B&N becoming a victim of “efficiency” and “profitability” at the sake of no longer being an interesting place to drink coffee and peruse books. Ayn Rand ultra-capitalism in action.
  • One less place to purchase books in your neighborhood (eventually), and one less e-reader to foster competition in the online space

Now let’s focus on the “good” points

  • Barnes & Noble (and Borders) all but killed independent bookstores in the 1990’s. Their collapse will create a space for small business owners to rise up
  • The lack of any physical bookstore in an area may drive people back to their local library (we can hope).
  • With proper leadership, maybe Barnes & Noble can save itself and get back to selling books on a smaller scale (instead of toys and board games)

There are a few items I purchase regularly at my local B&N, mainly magazines, that Amazon doesn’t carry. Shocking, I know.

The problem is that Barnes & Noble has begun to reek of desperation, in all the wrong ways. Like other big retailers who had their predatory hay day in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and ignored digital sales ::cough, Gamestop, cough:: they are adopting wildly irritating tactics in an attempt to salvage their remaining customers.

I want to buy a book or magazine. I do not want to

  • sign up for your discount card
  • buy more things to “save money”
  • sign up for your marketing emails under the guise of “getting my receipt emailed to me”

These are all annoyances that make myself, and most customers I bet, just want to shop online even more. This latest move to eliminate their full-time employees aka “the knowledgeable people who will provide customer service” will only hurt their shoppers experience even further.

What do you think? Do you shop at Barnes & Noble? Will you sit on the sidelines, shopping at Amazon until you hear about the going-out-of-business sale to get cheap hardcovers?

I won’t mourn the death of Barnes & Noble specifically, but more what its collapse signifies.