Barnes & Noble seems to have it pretty rough. But I doubt that competition from Amazon is the most salient cause of it. Let us not forget that Amazon still has to actually have a profitable year since its creation. Amazon is surely a giant to be reckoned with, but it seems that it gets all the attention every time something goes bad in the book industry. While not a fan of Bezos’s empire, I wonder how many misdeeds in the book industry and retail are covered up by claiming “Amazon did it!”.
Why are we looking just at Amazon for this situation, while ignoring the Big Five and their market strategies and politics?
All the more so when one considers that Amazon still has contracts with all the major publishing houses. They did not flinched when chains like Borders and B&N killed off most of the independent bookstores (with their backing), but now they all look concerned and wary and decry the state of the physical stores. Maybe if they thought to really do something for physical stores, they would lobby for a Publishing Act, as it existed in the UK until 1997, which specified how much discount a retailer can give, so as not to undercut others. Of course, collective action is hard, so we might as well put all the blame on Amazon.
This will put pressure on publishers to increase their media presence and pump up their marketing department, to compensate the reduced presence in bookstores. The consequence will be a greater scrutiny on the sale potential of published titles and the restraining of access for new authors (especially for small publishers). They will probably go “indie”, but the success rate there is small (until now). Academic publishing will be even more affected, forced to exist mostly in the online environment, where Amazon will squeeze every penny out of them. The prices of textbooks and academic books will get even higher and accessible to only a small minority of readers. As digital format books will be even more present, DRM will be even more hard to bypass. Suit against sites like Libgen and SCI-Hub might have foresight value. Brave new world.
Was the touted recent growth of independent bookstores just a fluke, a spike in an otherwise clear decline of bookstores? The most recent Barnes & Nobles results appear to indicate this scenario. It seems that the fall of Borders a few years ago was not equaled in shelf space and sales by the recent growth of independent bookstores.