A New Chapter for Barnes & Noble: The Independent Bookstore Era 

By: Anna Cox

If you have ever considered yourself to be an avid reader, then you have definitely experienced being in a Barnes & Noble. You’ve probably spent upwards of an hour just picking up and putting away books, trying to decide which ones to buy. Your shopping days have probably ended in the section with records or games and thought, “This is the most glorious way to waste my time.”  And, that was the exact intention of the stores when they were first conceptualized.

Founded in 1873, Barnes & Noble wouldn’t see major success until the 1990s, when it started to open the mega-stores that you are familiar with today. The store was unique in that it was the size of a department store but it sold mainly just books. 

The business model was that all the stores would look relatively the same; therefore, if you went to Barnes & Noble in California, you would see the same books, layout, and even couches as a Barnes & Noble in Tennessee. The stores were made with the purpose of carrying a wider selection of books at a cheaper price than independent bookstores. This caused many to go out of business when a Barnes & Noble would come to town. But, the retailer would see competition in digital bookstores.

Online stores, such as Amazon, were able to use Barnes & Noble’s business model, but improve upon it. Amazon sold an even wider range of books at similar Barnes & Noble prices. But, Amazon’s leg up was that you could buy these books from home and have them on your doorstep in a matter of days. So, what does Barnes & Noble do to gain back its appeal? They decide to steal from the playbook at the stores it used to threaten: independent bookstores.

Barnes & Noble saw that especially after the pandemic, people were craving for something more peaceful. Thus, they changed their business model. The new goal was to remind readers of the charm behind an independent bookstore, but still with the lower Barnes & Noble prices. Stores moved to smaller locations and adopted a more modern architectural style. The selections are now different depending on the location, with the books being specifically sourced depending on the region that the stores are located in. Those who work in the stores are also given more freedom to curate what is displayed in the stores depending on the trends they see in sales. 

The issue with this remodel is that if people wanted to go somewhere that felt like an independent bookstore, then they would go to an independent bookstore. Barnes & Noble was initially made to give people a wider selection of books, and this new model does not do a good job replacing that. It is now harder to find books if they aren’t trending or written by authors from the city that you are shopping in. So, while it was a unique effort, the new remodel does not land very well in my opinion.


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