Will Independent Bookstores Outlast Barnes & Noble?

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 7 2013 4:04 PM

Will Independent Bookstores Outlast Barnes & Noble?

Back in the 1990s, chains putting locally owned independent bookstores out of business was all the rage. But Reston, Va., has a used bookstore that turned 35 yesterday, and it'll soon be Reston's only bookstore since the local Barnes & Noble outlet is closing.

And make no mistake, Barnes & Noble is in deep trouble. The company's ability to pivot from physical book retailing to the manufacture and sale of an e-reader platform is extremely impressive, but Nook sales are falling, probably less thanks to any particular flaw in the Nook than to the fact that e-reader sales in general are falling. Companies are going to keep cranking out tablets, and Kindle e-ink readers are a great sideline for Amazon, but it looks like Barnes & Noble has no lifeline here. Independent booksellers, by contrast, still have customer service and people's fuzzy nostalgia going for them. It's obviously not a growth industry, but it's much easier to see it persisting as a niche than it is to imagine Barnes & Noble continuing to prosper.

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

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