Raise your hand if you grew up going to Barnes & Noble, sitting there like a TOTAL EFFING CREEP right on the floor of the aisles, not so much reading, as much as fantasizing, as you flipped through countless different paperbacks, poring over their pages, fingering their covers (the ones with the raised bumpy texture were always my favorite), and transporting yourself to another place, there on that floor, even if only for a matter of minutes.
Barnes & Noble was my jam growing up. It’s still my jam. I become the kind of person I want to be, when I walk through those doors. I’m instantly smarter, more interesting, more alive. The possibility buzzes through the air like pheromones. In there, the world is yours.
That’s why I’m always disappointed when I read articles like this:
“Recently, Barnes & Noble has experienced declining sales trends due primarily to lower store traffic and the challenging retail environment.”
This isn’t necessarily surprising, though it’s disheartening all the same. Because Barnes & Noble thinks they need to compete directly with Amazon—all the pressssssureeeeee!—and that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. From the same article:
“Among the test programs underway, their “ship from store program” (which essentially uses stores as distribution centers to fulfill online orders) was recently expanded from a four-store test to 60 stores. Another initiative, “prime time programming,” has booksellers focus on customer interaction during peak shopping hours.”
But trying to compete with Amazon for online doesn’t make any sense, because customers don't go to Barnes & Noble to buy books. We can do that anywhere, these days. We go to Barnes & Noble to have the experience of books. Which also means that the second initiative is going to get in the way of that, too: there’s literally nothing I can think of worse than a sales person following you around, stealing from your attention and your experience and your delight and your wonder. We don’t want to interact with people; we want to interact with IDEAS.
Barnes & Noble is a place for lovers of ideas.
It's a place for inklings.
It's a place for the curious.
And it's a place where we can get a little bit closer to the people we hope to become.
The key, here, being this:
Barnes & Noble is a place. A destination. A product all in itself. Not a store.
If you want to be competitive in the book selling industry, don’t focus on selling books; focus on selling the experience of reading. Be the guy who does offline on purpose. And do what you do best: provide a place for us to play.
Because Barnes & Noble may not have the same advantage as they used to, but that doesn’t mean they can't create a new one.
Or, perhaps, reinvent an old one long forgotten.