Culture Crash 18-20: Should We Really ‘Save Barnes & Noble?’

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture.  What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

When Barnes and Noble first rose to national prominence, it was feared to be an industry-killer. The chain currently operates over 600 stores across the country and that’s after considerable cuts in the recent decade.

Like all massive chains, criticisms came about how it was price-slashing the little guys. Independent bookstores, once a staple in most communities were made a rarity thanks to Barnes and Noble and its now-defunct competitor, Borders.

The disdain for these corporate behemoth booksellers was so widespread, it became a plot point in the 1998 Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romcom, You’ve Got Mail: his family owned a chain of bookstores, she ran an independent shop. You get the picture.

Now, though, times have changed. Amazon has already ousted Borders and is working on Barnes & Noble. In a New York Times editorial earlier this month, it was argued that we, as consumers, need to “SAVE BARNES AND NOBLE!” The title even had an exclamation mark.

The argument is, of course, that Amazon is getting too big. They can make unfair demands on publishers, they can dictate prices and they can really control which books succeed and which don’t just by featuring certain titles on their homepage. On the flip side, Amazon has done a pretty good job of promoting reading and they still push book sales, even though their business has grown beyond it.

And now the debate comes down to readers: Should we support Barnes and Noble to maintain a rival for Amazon, or do we let capitalism run its course? Amazon’s prices are usually lower, so why should consumers take a hit just to keep another massive corporation in business?

Some will say that we shouldn’t support either Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but rather that we should support the few independent bookstores we have left istead..

And as for which side is right- well, who’s to say. But no matter which side you fall on, it feels funny to see an attempt to rally book readers around Barnes and Noble, the villain in this saga for so many years.

I’m Evan Rook.