Barnes & Noble and the Collapse of the Publishing Ecosystem

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 30 2012 8:42 AM

Barnes & Noble and the Collapse of the Publishing Ecosystem

Barnes & Noble flagship on 18th and Fifth in Manhattan
Barnes & Noble flagship on 18th and Fifth in Manhattan

Wikipedia photo

A great Julie Bosman piece notes that while traditional book publishers once saw the large bookstore chains as the enemy, now that Barnes & Noble is the last man standing in the field, all of publishing looks on them as their only hope, lest they get crushed beneath the heel of the Amazon e-book goliath. The specific concern with Amazon isn't that nobody wants to buy e-books, it's that in a world dominated by a single seller of e-books it makes sense for Amazon to squeeze out the middleman—i.e., the publishers—and also that Amazon's overwhelming position in the distribution channel could force down prices of publishers' existing backlists. Something interesting about the article is that it illustrates that ecosystems of interconnected firms exist outside of the traditional industrial channel. If General Motors and Chrysler had gone out of business, that would have brought down many of their parts suppliers. If Barnes & Noble goes down, that threatens a chain of major publishers who supply it with books and that in turn threatens a chain of literary agencies who provide them with writers.

Macmillan CEO John Sargent tries to persuade Bosman that the chain goes all the way to the writers. "Anybody who is an author, a publisher, or makes their living from distributing intellectual property in book form is badly hurt," he said, "if Barnes & Noble does not prosper."

Advertisement

Running through the whole piece, however, you get an overwhelming sense of the end of retail. The fact that Barnes & Noble is losing money even though its main competitor vanished from the face of the earth does not augur well for its market segment. Even in a declining industry the sudden elimination of the competition should be a shot in the arm. The company is clearly betting its future on the success of the Nook, but it's going to have a lot of trouble here if only because if push comes to shove Amazon can easily afford to sell Kindles at below-cost as a loss-leader to drive future book sales.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?