Add Me as a Co-signer

In the Washington Post, Alexandra Petri pleads with Barnes & Noble not to marginalize itself, with more effectiveness and less of the accidental elitism of a former Classics major than I could muster.  (h/t Rod Dreher)

Her concluding image is a far less dignified fate for humanity than even Faulkner could prophesy:

You are all that stands between us and the nightmarish vision of a world where the only place unused books are sold is at Urban Outfitters, as decorative ironic curios, along with vinyl records and toilet brushes shaped like owls. But if this is the only place, it is the place we will go.

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29 thoughts on “Add Me as a Co-signer

  1. There are some local bookstores and chains in the San Francisco Bay Area that sell new books and seem to be doing well. They tend to be on the small size but still well-stocked with titles. BookSmith on Haight leans largely towards fiction. GreenApple Books sells new and used books. There is also the local chain Books, Inc.

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      • BookSmith might be a bit surprising but I’ve bought a good number of books there. GreenApple does not seem like it is going anywhere, anytime soon. The store is too much of a San Francisco institution, it would be like New York without the Strand.

        Cody’s went defunct right before I moved to the Bay Area. Moe’s is still around. There was another famous bookstore whose name I can’t remember that went defunct.

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  2. There is another small chain of stores (each has a different name) that sells new and used books. Mainly used though but a decent enough section of new books and remainders.

    One Palo Alto store became a collective to survive.

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  3. Don’t “co-sign”, act. I just ran to a B&N after work to buy this: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/live-in-europe-1969-the-bootleg-series-2-miles-davis-quintet/25388788?ean=887254185321 for $50 instead of the $35 I could’ve paid elsewhere (tax free!) because when I know it’s something they have and the price difference isn’t too bad (granted, I was figgerin’ it’d be just north of $40 with my 10% off), I buy the shit at B&N to keep them there.

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    • I don’t think so. Not all retail is equal including big chains. I prefer good and local independent bookstores but there is still some warmth to a Barnes and Noble. The one at Union Square in New York is 4 floors filled with books. The lights are not a harsh neon. They have or had interesting speakers. I saw Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendack speak.

      That being said, a good local bookstore with individual design and charm and the right squeak in wooden floors is best. Green Apple, Powell’s, and the Strand over Barnes and Noble. But towns need bookstores and a Barnes and Noble is better than nothing.

      http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/12/the-bookstore-strikes-back/309164/

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      • Fifteen years ago, B&N was everything that was wrong with book retail. Now their death is being lamented by the same people that hated them years ago. If Walmart get crushed by web commerce in a decade, why won’t people lament that you can no longer go to the store to get Christmas decorations or toothpaste with the other members of your community? That there will be some loss of discovery of unusual toys that you for your kids that would never happen in a targeted e-commerce world.

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        • Fair point.

          I never lived in an area with an easily accessible Wal-mart so I can’t say. NYC and SF work hard to keep Wal-mart out. SF has a CostCo though. There is a local hardware store chain called Cole Hardware in SF that is universally loved. My guess is that books have an emotional intensity and sentimentality that lightbulbs and toothpaste do not conjure.
          Also people are being utilitarian, a B and N is better than only a used bookstore or no bookstore.

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          • “Also people are being utilitarian, a B and N is better than only a used bookstore or no bookstore.”

            no, they’re being sentimental. otherwise they’d spell utilitarian “amazon.com” like the rest of us.

            nothing wrong with being sentimental – though i’m tempted to think that essay was written by a pen name for the newly funemployed applebee’s social media team – but like mo i’m old enough to remember when b&n was the terribad korpor$te amerikkka bookstore of record. also convenient for bathroom breaks in the city with large groups.

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            • I’m 32. I’ve heard the same arguments.

              Now you are making the same mistake the Farhad Manjoo and Matt Y do when they say that retail shopping at physical stores is inefficient like most tech-utopians.

              Both are using “efficient” in the every day sense of the word in that you have to look around a retail environment and it might take some time.

              This is not efficient in economist speak. As I understand it, efficient as used by economists simply means that people value it and are willing to pay for it to be around. Maybe people are not willing to do this for B and N but there does seem to be plenty of people willing to do this for independent retailers and to create a sense of community.

              This is what I don’t get about hardcore net/tech utopia types who do most or all of their shopping on-line and think it is the best ever, why is it so horrible that some people still prefer retail shopping? Even if there is some sentiment to it why is that so bad? People are emotional/social creatures, not Vulcans. There are some things that I frankly do not always want to buy on-line like clothing and shoes. Stuff that might need altering. Plus there is still joy in searching the stacks of a record or bookstore.

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              • I don’t think it’s bad that people do retail shopping. Heck, I enjoy it and periodically do it myself. But even the biggest, best B&N can’t compete with the selection that Amazon has. But I liked Kozmo.com too and understand, thems the break, what I like may not be a business model that can sustain itself.

                I remember in the heyday of B&N is evil, I was always confused as to why. I grew up in the ‘burbs and B&N and Borders were far superior to the crappy Waldenbooks that were ubiquitous in malls and essentially the only choice people had. I’m sure many people enjoyed the crappy selection and convenience of having a bookstore, no matter how crappy, in the same place where they did their department store shopping. But then, B&N was a better option and now Amazon is.

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                • it’s ok to be sentimental – i’m not here to rain on anyone’s madelines – but if you’re after raw utility, it’s kinda hard to beat amazon’s discounts + shipping in terms of getting books (and hard drives) and whatnot jammed in your hands at the best price point.

                  instead of utilitarian it strikes me a more accurate term might be “enriching experience”. of which i would not necessarily disagree, though i’ve always had more love for used bookstores than new.

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  4. There seems to be an assumption that there is a valuable market here, but no company is willing any longer to fill it.

    I think there may be a problem with assumption.

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    • And yet I made you happy by saying that Green Apple and Booksmith are still around. ;)

      How are you defining the market? Is it just bookstores? Big-chain bookstores? Bookstores in certain cities, towns, locations?

      Farhad Majoo and Matt Y at Slate like to post occasional articles/rants every now and then about how retail shopping is “inefficient” and that they would love for everything to be an on-line tech utopia.

      These kind of articles drive my economist friends up the wall because they define efficient as “people are willing to pay for it.” Clearly in some locations there is a market for bookstores.

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    • It could be an assumption about the size of the market. I’ve noticed certain products that aren’t enough in demand for the retail chain model do surprisingly well in other stores. We’ve got six local music stores and they’re all doing much better than they’re supposed to be right now. I still wouldn’t invest in a music chain.

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      • By music do you mean that they sell albums, instruments, or both?

        I think that in some cities/areas (ones with a high number of people in the so-called creative class), there is a market to keep independent stores, restaurants, and cafes alive and kicking. Especially if the store can develop a niche in expertise. Tower Records in the suburbs might have gone the way of the dodo but the independent record store in a cool neighborhood with a knowledgeable staff can do quite well. The Bay Area has Ameoba records and Rasputin music that sell new and old CDs and DVDs despite itunes and netflix. I don’t go into them often but every now and then I will. Plus itunes does not have everything.

        The same can be true for other cultural consumption products. A lot of people of the upper-middle class (or will be upper-middle class) creative class group seem to think that these things matter as values. We want communities with independent shop-keepers, not chains. This is true for my friend’s who live in Brooklyn and San Francisco and my friends who moved to more suburban areas like Rockland County in New York or Rockridge* in the Bay Area.

        *Rockridge is known as the place where hipsters go to have kids and families but can’t quite bring themselves to move to the true suburbs like Orinda, Lafayette, and Walnut Creek.

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        • Yeah, I was talking about record & CD stores (usually DVDs too). I know a number of store owners with those places and they’ve all said that, yes, sales dropped a lot when people starting downloading, but then they started coming back and now they’re doing a lot better than they had expected to be a few years ago. Part of that is being able to read the market and know what people are looking for. But it might just be a matter of the market being large enough for stores like that, but not for a large chain.

          Or, conversely, it could be how we buy products. I honestly get annoyed in chain stores because I get so little help finding things I might want. It’s really just a matter of where will I get good help finding things and maybe come out with something great that I didn’t think of myself. I don’t usually get that from the high school kids at the mall.

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  5. Currently, and indie skateboarding shop in Ottawa is having some sort of used books sale/trade-in/event. Rather than the usual Van’s in the front window, it’s a bunch of old Penguin publications (and not the Penguin Classics line). It’s kind of cool, and rather unexpected.

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