Tonight we decided to swing by Barnes & Noble after dinner because we weren’t ready to head home and because the boys always enjoy playing with their Thomas the Train table and gear in the kids’ area. We took turns watching the boys and browsing around while pushing Lydia in the stroller. It was the first time in a while I’d been in there and I noticed several things that seemed to have changed – things that I think mark a shift brought on by the sea changes in their business.
The first thing we saw when we walked in, front and center, was a kiosk devoted to the Nook, their e-reader, complete with display models and a sales rep manning the booth. It was the clearest and most obvious testimony to what’s happening in the book/publishing business. With the success of Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad/iBooks, Barnes & Noble seems to be going all-out to get a stake in the digital book market, and is wisely leveraging it’s stores to do so.
(Side note: I personally thought the Nook was OK but not great. The fact that the reader itself was not a touchscreen – only the color panel at bottom functions as such – made highlighting and notetaking and such pretty balky and difficult. I’m intriuged be the eReader concept but don’t read enough currently to spend the cash. One feature of the Nook I did like a lot, however, was the ability to loan books.)
In the back of Barnes & Noble I noticed that a huge section of the store, near the kids’ books, had been given over to more stuff for kids. There were educational toys and puzzles for kids of different ages, there were books with educational curricula (for homeschoolers and such I presume), and that sort of thing. Again, the emphasis here is on more stuff that you would be more apt to buy after browsing around a seeing it in person (as opposed to online at Amazon), and all of it is stuff that doesn’t work or fit with an e-reader. Scattered throughout other display areas in the store were other board games and that sort of thing.
Lastly, I noticed that the music area was less than half occupied by music – there were more movies than CDs. I mean, surely not many people buy CDs anymore, especially at a store.
In short, Barnes & Noble seems to be wisely playing to their strengths – luring people (like us) in with their coffeshop, warm ambience, and the kiddie area in the back. I didn’t go into buy anything – I rarely do (in fact, usually if I see books of interest I look for them at the library or on Amazon). But I did play with a Nook, look at games, kids books (you don’t buy those without seeing them – at least we don’t), and that sort of thing. That’s a good recipe for them to survive, or so it seems to me.