If Barnes & Noble Goes Out of Business, Would Anyone Care?
The New Republic is concerned that the death of B&N could have odd and unpleasant side effects on publishing. While other retailers would take up the slack in terms of sales, they would not provide the early volume of orders that some publishers have come to rely upon:
… Even on the brink of closing, Barnes & Noble still accounts for as much as 30 percent of all sales for some publishing houses.
But the focus on sales masks the deeper degree to which the publishing industry relies on Barnes & Noble. The retailer provides much of the up-front cash publishers need to survive, in the form of initial orders. Most independent bookstores can’t afford to buy many books in advance; a single carton of 24 books would represent a large order. Amazon also buys few books in advance, preferring to let supplies run down so as to prompt online shoppers to “add to cart” because there are “only five left in stock.”
Barnes & Noble, by contrast, often takes very large initial orders. For books it believes will fly off the shelves, initials can reach the mid-five figures—hundreds of thousands of dollars that go to the publisher before a single book is even sold. That money, in turn, allows publishers to run ads in magazines and on Facebook, send authors on book tours, and pay for publicists. Without Barnes & Noble, it would become much harder for publishers to turn books into best-sellers.
Basically the one-percenters are concerned that Barnes & Noble won’t be there to finance their business (although I’m not sure why they’d care; big orders mean big returns).
Boo-hoo. They’ll have to find a new sugar daddy.
And as for the predicted consequences:
In a world without Barnes & Noble, risk-averse publishers will double down on celebrity authors and surefire hits. Literary writers without proven sales records will have difficulty getting published, as will young, debut novelists. The most literary of novels will be shunted to smaller publishers. Some will probably never be published at all. And rigorous nonfiction books, which often require extensive research and travel, will have a tough time finding a publisher with the capital to fund such efforts.
That reads to me like someone took a list of existing roadblocks which keep authors from getting published and concluded that they would continue to exist after the death of B&N.
Roadblocks are bad, yes, but I don’t see they would be a reason to fear the demise of B&N.
image by Sue Hasker