business news in context, analysis with attitude

Columnist David Leonhardt has a provocative piece in the New York Times entitled “Save Barnes & Noble!”, in which he addresses what he calls the “plausible” possibility that bookseller Barnes & Noble could go out of business.

Stores have closed and staffing has been reduced, though “the company’s leaders claim that they have a turnaround plan, based on smaller, more appealing stores focused on books. Leonhardt writes, “I hope the plan works. It’s depressing to imagine that more than 600 Barnes & Noble stores might simply disappear — as already happened with Borders, in 2011.”

But Leonhardt argues that this is not just an example of how the wheel of capitalism turns. Rather, he says, “the full story revolves around government policy — in particular, Washington’s leniency, under both parties, toward technology giants that have come to resemble monopolies. These giants are popular, because they provide good products and service. But they have also become mighty enough to vanquish their competitors and create problems for society.”

It is a thoughtful column, and you can read it here.
KC's View:
I’m not sure I entirely buy Leonhardt’s premise, in part because he gives short shrift to the idea that Barnes & Noble was putting independent bookstores out of business long before Amazon came along. (See You’ve Got Mail.) While Barnes & Noble may be endangered, independent bookstores are seeing a resurgence, largely because they have a specific story to tell that runs counterpoint to what Amazon does.

Oren Teicher, who runs an association of independent bookstores, says that “it’s in the interest of the book business for Barnes & Noble not just to survive but to thrive.” I’m not sure I’d go that far … I think it is in the interest of the book business for people to read, and for there to be multiple places for them to buy books. But I’m not persuaded that Barnes & Noble has to be part of that. They have to earn it.