Trouble at the Barnes & Noble

The impending demise of a stupid giant.  The death of the Gatekeepers.  And, why you don’t need an agent anymore.

The other day  I popped in to a big Barnes & Noble anchor store inside a high traffic entertainment complex called the Spectrum down in Irvine, California. The rest of the world may be experiencing some kind of recession as a result of Obama’s disastrous economic policies as is now being admitted by all sides, but Southern California barely shows the effects.   Unless you know where to look.

So, I just wanted to cruise the science fiction section, and of course see if any of my books were in stock, and look around and see if there was anything interesting to pick up.

This is just an update on an unfolding disaster I’ve talked about before regarding the science fiction section at Barnes and Noble.

It’s a disaster. Seriously.

The science fiction section consisted of  three small shelves, badly, and fully, stocked with some standard big hitters for sure fire sales.  But there wasn’t enough evidence in those three tiny half-aisles that spoke exciting and aggressive growth in the genre. It felt stale. It felt old. It felt Soviet. It felt defeated.  Maybe that was because it was stuck on the second floor, back near the bathroom.  You know where they keep all the best selllers and the sexiest books

Hint: No they don’t.

No, this particular placement for the once vaunted science fiction section, a staple they kept so many bookstores alive with the trade of the faithful binge-buying junkie science fiction readers cleaning them out,  is now relegated to the smelly back of the store.  It seemed like some sort of discount holdover section no bookseller wanted to be sent into to organize.  There was no love.  It was forsaken.

The Toy Section (Yes.  Toys.  In a book store?  Tells you everything, doesn’t it?)  Took up a quarter of the store and was a swollen and corpulent mess with un-purchased  excess from the recent Christmas season.  Whole tables, where once New Releases and Staff Pick Impulse buys laid in seductive waiting for junkie readers and unsuspecting  passers by, was now filled with mangled and dirty toys that had not sold.  And probably won’t.

So what does this tell us writers.

Well, first off it tells you the big publishing is dead. They’re dead and they don’t even know it.

So, it’s time for every writer to start wrapping their head around something, and it’s going to be very unpleasant no matter who you are. Even if you are a big time writer with  good sales, you are most likely about to face an apocalypse of your own making. Once Barnes & Noble shutters, and I expect that to happen any day now, your publishers who have relied so heavily on the Barnes & Noble outlets, are about to cancel your contracts and not even publish your books. They may even just pay out your last contract and not publish any books because they’ve got no place to sell them.  That’s bad. It’s happening already as I’ve come to hear. The truth is they’re not even selling them at Barnes & Noble.  Actually what really happens is people just pick up your book,  go into the cafe and pay for a cup of coffee to read your book.  And they don’t even bother to re-shelve it.  And they certainly don’t buy it.

So Big  Pub which lost its war against Amazon because it refused to adapt to the market because it relied so heavily on one badly managed bookstore: is now dead.

And for all writers who don’t have publishing contracts, but have big publishing dreams, you really need to wrap your head around the fact that was probably the worst thing that could have happened to you: Getting published by the Big Five.  I got pub’d by a Major a publisher and it was a disaster.  It never matched the success I had as an indie.  No,  you need to start taking charge of your own future and marketing your own books on a perfectly acceptable platform that can generate you lots of dollars, especially once Barnes & Noble’s sinks.  Amazon will be the only game in town. It’s probably time to master that.

On the subject of agents: forget them. They’re useless and they have no place in the paradigm that is the new market. Their holdovers from a day and age when we needed them to get through the gate keepers.   The gatekeepers are dead. So you don’t need agents anymore. I parted ways with mine in November. A major author who I like, and respect, put it to me straight. He told me he didn’t have an agent and had never had an agent.  That author is very successful and he even owns a mountain. And noI’m not kidding, he owns an actual mountain. He has a very successful science-fiction series. His name is Larry Correia.  If Larry Correia doesn’t  need an agent then neither do you.

So here’s the facts: it’s time  to get started on mastering the business of marketing.  Here’s a podcast I found that that’s pretty eye opening about how Indie Authors are currently marketing

Episode # 156 – Launch Your Author Platform with Jonny Andrews. It’s from the Rocking Self-Publishing podcast with Simon Whistler, one of the best insider baseball interviewers next to Hank Garner over at the Author Stories Podcast.  This is all about getting your platform built.  Whoever you are, big or small, trad or indie, you need to do this now.  The market’s about to change: dramatically.  Have a way to sell your books.  Be able to do what you love to do, regardless of bad business decisions by third parties.


About Nick Cole

Nick Cole is a working actor living in Southern California. When he is not auditioning for commercials, going out for sitcoms or being shot, kicked, stabbed or beaten by the students of various film schools for their projects, he can often be found as a guard for King Phillip the Second of Spain in the Opera Don Carlo at Los Angeles Opera or some similar role. Nick Cole has been writing for most of his life and acting in Hollywood after serving in the U.S. Army. You can also find him on Twitter.

17 Responses to Trouble at the Barnes & Noble

  1. Wow. I just thought about it, and realized the Scifi/fantassy section at the local B&N in Lakewood, Washington did exactly the same thing. They moved it from a big, 25 x20x 10 corner right in the center of the store, with racks and table displays besides, to a ro and a half with a quarter of the shelf space at the side back of the oddly shaped store, the wing with travel and history books. You cant even see signs for it. Meanwhile, the childrens books and toy section takes up a 50 ft wide by 25 deep section of the store main back wall, plainly highlighted and featured. Way to put it in context. Maybe you should have a post where fans send you pictures where their local B&N have hidden the section.

  2. I chuckled when you used Larry as an example because that guy has such a following, he can do many things most authors can’t. I agree that there are less and less reasons for an author to have an agent. You’re likely not getting into traditional publishing without one, but hopefully authors are taking notice of how unfavorable that path is to new authors. The last author earnings report I read had eye opening stats about how little new authors in traditional publishing make, which is no doubt a cause of their upwards of $9.99 pricing structure.

    I wonder how the Amazon bookstore (s?) is doing. We go into Barnes for me to see new releases but I haven’t bought one from there in a long time.

  3. Well, it’s sad to watch. I know that the long-time employees aren’t any happier about it since they’re almost all book lovers themselves.

    I used to work for a B&N in So Cal, taking severance about three years ago, and I was there when the Great Shrinking began. DVDs, CDs, books – anything that could be digitized began losing shelf space. The economy tanking even more with every passing year sped things up to a ridiculous degree, and you can see how the company has had to respond in order to keep as many doors open as they can: toys, juvie lit, Starbucks.

    I don’t think they’ll fold, personally, but, logically, if they grow at all it won’t be as a book store. And you’re right: they are the last middleman in the Publisher-to-Consumer chain, so even if they manage to keep their doors open for the next hundred years, the traditional publishing business is a dead man walkin’.

    I’m not happy about this: I fail to see how yet another book store chain dropping off the radar can be a good thing for a society as prone to avoid reading anything longer than a Tweet as our is.

    Ironically, it may be B&N, no longer an adult book store but a kids’ center (in the cities, at least), that helps foster the next generation of readers (who then buy our stuff on Amazon).

  4. I second Nick’s recommendation for the Rocking Self Publishing podcast. I wish that Simon was still on the once a week format, but that’s a piddling complaint when presented with the huge value of his excellent interviews. The information there is incredible.

  5. I must be one of the lucky ones, the B&N stores I go to still have rather large SF/F sections, I haven’t hit all 13 in my area, but I do go to 3 of them on a semi regular basis, even the small one has 2 full isles. But I also have Uncle Hugo’s, if I feel like venturing into traffic and limited parking.

  6. I bought Larry Correia and John Ringo’s latest at the B & N in Pleasanton, CA, about four weeks ago. The SciFi section hadn’t changed much in the last few years and it wasn’t that different when I was there. I get in there every few months but I’ll be by again in a few weeks. I did have a problem one time finding a new copy of one of Larry’s book’s a couple of years ago. The salesperson had to get me copy “from the back”.

  7. To give the devil his due, sci-fi readers are almost by definition tech early adopters, and probably are more likely to go all-ebook than anybody else.

    But yes, I could tell even 5 years ago, at the B&N in a well-to-do Dallas suburb, that the only briskly going concern there was the coffee shop. People picking up books and magazines to read while eating their cake and sipping their lattes, then not buying them, is not a viable business model.

  8. How hard is it to figure out that offering either a free coffee/pastry, or a reduced price coffee/pastry with your receipt from buying the book is a brilliant idea? And why am I, a brilliant idea person, not able to find a job selling brilliant ideas?

  9. The B&N here isn’t bad, several rows of SFF in the middle of the store. I live in a smaller town, which has probably been slower to adopt online shopping, and our B&N is newer and nicer than most. The majority of the SF at our store is popular older titles by brand-name authors, but one rack is reserved for newly released books, with a mix of famous and newer authors.

    If our BN closes, the only stores selling books here will be Wal-mart and Sam’s, and their offerings are limited to celebrity bios, romance novels, and the really big-name mystery authors.

    If you read BN’s annual report, it seems like they’ve even given up on their general bookstores, and see their future as an operator of college bookstores. I wonder if they sneak any SFF into those?

  10. Pingback: Building Platforms | The Arts Mechanical

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