So Barnes and Noble is closing their flagship bookstore in Lincoln Center. It dominated that triangle for 15 years, and was one of my favorite places...to arrange meetings, to browse the magazines and more, It was central to my Manhattan life for a long time. I met Elmore Leonard there. I watched Steve Earle play half a set and read from his book there. It also probably had the highest collective IQ group of customers of any Barnes and Noble in the country. (That is a guess, but the rest of this post isn't)
Here is a secret about bookstores. They have the same problem as libraries, but have to show a profit too.
Usage studies will show you 99% of books in any library never circulate. That's right...no one ever takes them out. Does that diminish their usefulness or utility? Not one bit. You see, it is impossible for a bean counter to measure the effectiveness of a book on an impressionable mind. Who knows what impact one obscure, buried volume will have on the one right person who finds it? You can't anticipate it, you can't predict it, you can't even imagine it, but if the book isn't there...THEN it is useless. The true value of a library is the potential, not the statistics.
Libraries are often subject to ill-advised "usage" studies by efficiency "experts" and account managers...and they are often one of the first things to go when a company cuts cost. Why? Because their usefulness can not be measured. It is not a "business" model which is applicable to financial appraisal. That's why libraries are funded by public money and endowments. Because they are too damn important to leave up to accountants who don't understand them and attempt to apply financial standards to them which do not work.
I'm sorry to see Barnes and Noble go, but they are falling victim to the same thing...they carry an enormous inventory, but 99% of the books sit on the shelve while the top 1% of sales, best-sellers mostly, account for an enormous percentage of the shop income. But unlike libraries...they are subject to economic pressures which the great libraries aren't...the need to show a profit.
I'm just sorry they put all the small, better managed local bookstores who knew their clientele out of business before they learned the lesson. And the lesson is? One nationwide bookstore with a cookie-cutter huge inventory all over has just learned it. 99% of the titles don't circulate. But you still have to pay to store them.
by Jim Linderman