The account given by Shelf Awareness of the trouble over CEO Demos Parneros’ firing, B&N’s chronicle of a deal undone, sounds embarrassingly like an episode of a trashy television drama. You’ll have to scroll down a little to get to the S.A. story: it’s the fourth item. As The Digital Reader points out this is just the opposite of the kind of publicity Barnes & Noble could use right now.

For a couple of years we have all been living in fear of a Barnes & Noble collapse. True, the share price did bump up a little recently, but maybe that was just because of take-over rumors. Surely the brutal truth is that the day of the massive bookstore has passed. Twenty years ago someone who was looking for a non-bestseller book would know that the widest inventory holdings would be found down at the mall, so it would be worthwhile driving down there to take a look. Worst case, B & N, Borders, Walden could special order it for you and in a week or so you’d have the book. Nowadays it’s just not worth using the gas — they probably won’t have the book anyway, and everyone knows that Amazon will, and will be able to get it to you quicker and cheaper than any B & N special order can.

More and more the center of gravity of bricks-and-mortar bookselling looks like settling on the local independent bookstore.* Its stock has been selected with the local customer base in mind, so maybe you will actually find that book there since they may have anticipated your interest! Offering the sort of intimate, personal experience that a chain just can’t manage, your local bookstore is above all local, and book readers are preselected to want to encourage local businesses which are making clear efforts to cater to an audience of neighbors. Barnes & Noble appears to recognize this — they’ve been trying to move towards smaller stores. But no matter how good the staff they put into these smaller stores may be, B & N cannot escape the crushing reality that they are not a local store: they are a national conglomerate. Killingly though, from the shareholder point of view, can small stores generate the sort of sales volume needed to keep a Fortune 500 company going?


* I’ve been preaching this small-is-beautiful line for ages. Just the other day I dragged it in to a discussion of the outlook for book publishing.