As Barnes & Noble Closes Stores, Independent Bookstores May Be the Ones to Pick Up the Slack


Some people love books. They love the way they smell enough to make a perfume of the scent. They love the way they look on shelves enough to create a website called Book Shelf Porn. They even love books enough to read them. They do not, however, appear to love them enough to keep Barnes & Noble open.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble's retail group, says the bookstore will close a third of its stores in the next decade. While book lovers dread the loss of storefronts — and pray that Barnes & Noble wont face the same fate as Borders — it appears that the decline of physical stores is going to continue, especially with Amazon and eBooks taking even more of the market share. There is a chance, however, that as Barnes & Noble falters, specialty and independent bookstores could flourish. 

In an open letter to Barnes & Noble, Alexandra Petri pleads with the bookstore to stay open. She argues that even though the shift to Amazon and online retailers is very real, bookstores are still very valuable to book sales as a whole: 

"Physical bookstores still serve a vital role as showcases for books. These are places where people encounter many titles for the first time, titles we may decide to buy later ... And they help even the online trade. Twenty-four percent of people who bought books from online retailers did so after seeing them in real live bookstores first, according to a 2011 survey. Yes, this is irksome if you are the book retailer, but it’s critical publicity for the book. Lose the showrooms, and the Book suffers."

While Petri hopes that the big chain stays open, there is a chance that the burden of bookstores may move to the small independent bookstores, as Steve Korbin, the publisher and executive director of Wharton Digital Press, claims.

If Korbin is correct, then in the future, love for the physical book will lean more towards nostalgia. When all it takes is a click of the mouse to deliver an eBook to your iPad, Kindle, or Nook, the act of going to a bookstore to grab hold of and buy a book will turn into an adventure.

That's what novelist Ann Patchett found when she opened an independent bookstore in Nashville. Her fantastic story on the journey from inception to store opening conveys the idea that people do love books. They do love the idea of going to a store and picking one out. And they are going to continue to buy them. Despite the rapid rise of eBooks, Patchett says, "If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read a book."

While Barnes & Noble may be closing a third of its stores in 10 years, there is still hope that bookstores as a whole are sticking around for good.