Friday, June 7th represented a significant tipping point for the publishing industry. Once a business that gripped the nation, the classic brick and mortar bookstores have receded into small competition between companies who are far past their prime. The biggest of these remaining relics of literary past was Barnes and Noble. Borders is gone. Amazon has taken over a large part of the marketplace and turned it digital and, though print isn’t dying, the places you are able to get it from are.
B&N is no different. The demise of one of the largest book retailers has been long coming, and now the company is mired in debt as attempts to sell novelties, coffee and everything else that isn’t books failed to save it. Now, a hedge fund is attempting to swoop in, buy the company debt and all, and see what it is they can do with it. The problem? These types of takeovers almost never end with the company being saved. More often than not we see the company get bought, drained of money and spiraling into bankruptcy.
It’s happened before with chains like Toys R Us, Payless Shoes and Wet Seal. A business in debt isn’t bought just to keep it alive; these hedge funds and executives have some idea of whether it can be saved and turned profitable or not. If they don’t think it can be, they simply kill it and move on, making a quick buck or two along the way.
Does that mean that this will definitely happen to B&N? No. The company may be saved, and the publishing industry may not have to watch its biggest retailer die a slow, painful death. The problem is, though, that if B&N fails… where else do you go to buy books? Amazon? There really is nowhere else beyond smaller businesses. And yes, supporting small businesses is fine, but consider the fact that, for all its warts and bad decisions, B&N offered the biggest offline selection of books you could find anywhere.
Those smaller independent stores? They don’t have the ability to buy large selections, because they cannot gain the discount for wholesale that big chains like B&N can. They have to be selective, picking the titles they know will sell and leaving the risky business to online sales only. Maybe you love amazon though. Most people do. But if they are the only place you can go online to buy a large selection of books, both new and used, well… that gives them incredible power.
Not only would they control the distribution, but they also control the point of sale as well. Amazon would have the ability to choose which books make the most money and which get left out in the cold. They’d be a monopoly with unlimited power. Paper printed books would rise and fall on their whim, and there would be nothing you could do about it.
No plans have been announced about what to do with B&N, but we can only hope the people behind the purchase have the ability and desire to save the retail giant because, as B&N goes, so does the publishing industry.
Caleb Edwards is a senior studying professional writing with a focus in editing and publishing. When he isn’t working or writing you can find him tending his fish, taking care of his cats and dogs or trying to find free time that he can waste (there never is any). You can follow him on Twitter @CEdwardsSam or find him at his website CalebMEdwards.com.