Sympathy for the Devil

image by Tony CriderLately, when talking to people about why the chose the Kindle or the Nook, I have gotten the argument from many people that buying a Nook supports your local Barnes and Noble, and Amazon is getting “too big.”

I am always stunned by this opinion. I don’t consider Barnes and Noble to be a local book store. I consider them a mega-corporation, with over 700 retail locations. They aren’t the old General Store. They are the chain store that put the General Store out of business. The yay or nay of B&N booksellers has stopped books from being published. That’s real power.

I’m not going to go as far as saying that the rise of Barnes and Noble was a bad thing.  Maybe those friendly, brightly lit, coffee shops got more people reading something beyond what could be found in the measly book section at the supermarket. Maybe the decline of the independent bookstore was inevitable.

In many ways, I think B&N’s recent struggles have been caused by its success. They have rested on the laurels, taking a reactionary route. They were too slow with integrating their store and online catalogs. They released the Nook two years after the first Kindle. They were slow to integrate their services with used book sellers. They could have led the market in these areas.

Also, as a company, they seem to be looking backwards. In 2009, they bought a chain of college bookstores. College bookstores? Did your executives travel from the 1970s to make that decision? Don’t they know that college students can buy books on the Internet? In January of this year, the company lost 17% of its stock value after they floated the idea of spinning off the Nook (their only growth area) into a separate company.

So before we complain about companies getting “too big,” remember that Barnes and Noble’s greatest enemy is Barnes and Noble. And to all of you who bought Nooks, I hope you still have a company to support it in five years.

2 thoughts on “Sympathy for the Devil

  1. dmoonfire

    Insert comment about standard formats and readers that handle them. 🙂

    That said, even Amazon could disappear in a few years. There is always a chance of that the backing company will completely stop supporting the hardware.

    1. Shannon Ryan Post author

      A good point. The danger of using any cloud or DRM service is the danger that the vendor will suddenly pull the plug on the operation. Also, with the case of Megaupload, we have found that a court order can be even more effective in killing such services. Ten years ago, I never suspected Borders would ever fail.


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