But this morning, I woke up to find out that, indeed, it's true. And one other detail hopped out at me: Barnes & Noble's total market capitalization is less than $1 billion. Woah. That might still seem like a lot of money, but in the world of corporate America, for a company with such a recognizable brand and national reach, it's actually peanuts. I've worked for people who could write a check and buy Barnes & Noble. That's amazing.
Enter mixed feelings.
I know writers and readers wax poetic about bookstores, with good reason, but Barnes & Noble is sort of the Wal-Mart of the book industry, no? Isn't this the bookstore chain that was considered the rapacious villain not too long ago? I remember when local communities would PROTEST a Barnes & Noble going in. In my college town, we had a beloved independent bookstore that was driven out of business shortly after Barnes & Noble came to town. And didn't Barnes & Noble sort of perfect the art of extracting money from publishers for front table placement? And isn't Barnes & Noble the company that uses returns as a way to enhance cash flow at publisher's expense? Isn't there a sort of direct correlation between the trouble publishers are in and Barnes & Noble "wallpaper" strategy of stocking thousands and thousands of books it can't sell in giant stores, then returning them at full cost?
But B&N isn't exactly riding high these days. I looked it up this morning and saw that B&N's profitability has steadily declined over the past three years. I think profits last year were about one third what they were three years ago. Sure, a recession is just ending, but the latest round of corporate earnings reports was actually pretty stellar.
So I was a little conflicted, actually. When I grew up, going to bookstore either meant a Waldenbooks in the mall or a little independent store not too far from my house. I could walk there, and must have spent hundreds of hours in those four shelves of books. When B&N and Borders came along, I had no problem with it. I knew it was wiping out the independents, but hey, I figured, that's capitalism. Markets consolidate. Size achieves efficiency and clout. That's how the game works. And now, when B&N seems like it might get plowed under by market forces and technological innovation, it seems kind of hypocritical to work myself up into a lather.
Either way, this is a pretty amazing moment in publishing and the media world. I'm still getting notices from the bankruptcy court handling the Tribune's recent bankruptcy (they owed me money, so I got stuck in their arbitration pool). My biggest clients right now are either online or POD companies, and print is in third place. And while the money is still in print books, if the B&N tells me anything, it's that this won't be true for long. It feels like pretty soon Amazon will complete its transformation into Random House, HarperCollins, Barnes & Noble, and Borders all wrapped up in one package.