Good-bye, B&N?

Sunny Frazier 4Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, has some thoughts, some regrets and a lot of hope about the future of the bookstore chain that bookaholics love and sometimes hate.

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When Borders closed its doors, I wrote a snarky good-bye letter and posted it on this site. There was no love lost between Borders and myself. They never carried my books or many other POD titles and they seldom gave local authors much attention.

I feel differently about the news that Barnes & Noble is trimming down to only 500 stores in the next decade. I guarantee the Fresno store won’t survive. They never embraced indie titles either, but at least I didn’t trip over teens hooked up to earphones sampling the latest CDs. I was never made to feel like a senior citizen in a Barnes & Noble.

What I felt was the sensation of being surrounded by books. I could sit on comfy cushions and leaf through pages while savoring the smell of Starbucks wafting from the cafe. It felt like I was home in my own living room, a much tidier version. I’d meet my bookish friend Kathleen there and we would wander the aisles, talking while stopping to stroke spines of familiar titles. I hate to think those days are over.

So, what happened to B&N? Apparently, the domination of e-books has made them succumb. Yes, they tried to compete with Kindle by developing the Nook, but it never really found a niche. While the store was a great place to browse, buyers went home and ordered the titles on their Kindles. When books don’t sell, it takes a lot of coffee beans to pay rent, utilities and staff.

There’s got to be some Karma at work here. After all, B&N gobbled up B.Dalton and 797 others, luring customers away from small bookstores. How could an independent bookseller compete? Many closed down as the big chains swelled. Now Amazon is taking the same route and B&N knows what it feels like to suffer.

I’m wondering if this will have a ripple effect. We’ve already seen Big Publishing sell out to celebrity titles and dictating what stores will sell. With Amazon, the playing field is leveled. We’ve seen the agent system lose it’s grip. Authors aren’t dancing to anyone’s tune anymore. Readers are exposed to more options via bloggers on the Internet, not confined to what a store will carry or which publishers have the largest promotional budget.

Fools Rush In 2Perhaps, with the downsizing of B&N, we will see an uprising of small bookstores. I miss The Upstart Crow and Bagels & Books. I wish I’d been able to walk through the doors of Creatures ‘n Crooks. There’s one bookstore in the small town of Clovis, forty miles from me, that proudly keeps books by local authors on their shelves and hosts lectures. They’ve readily agreed to holding a book launch for my next mystery, “A Snitch In Time.” They know local authors attract business.

This is what I hope to see in the near future: smaller stores with owners who support indie publishers and stock less expensive POD books. There are still readers who love to inhale the scent of fresh paper. If we want coffee, there’s a Starbucks around every corner. Indie publishers are putting out quality books and are easier to work with. We’re tired of pressing our nose against the window of chain stores and just want a shot to prove ourselves. I’d like to see bookstores go beyond selling books to hosting book clubs, writing workshops, lectures and signings. Readers and writers have a need to connect and what better place than a neighborhood bookstore?

In 1873, Barnes & Noble started in Wheaton, Ill. as a book printer, much like small presses today. During the Great Depression, it opened a bookstore in New York City and thrived despite a bad economy. In 1974, it got a growth spurt and in 1999 it got greedy. Much like Wall Street. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.