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The New York Times had an interesting piece over the weekend about the efforts by Barnes & Noble by remain relevant in an Amazon-dominated world, both through its stores (which saw some sales increases last year because of the collapse of brick-and-mortar competitor Borders) and, increasingly, through its Nook e-reader, which has been well-reviewed and has been stealing market share from Amazon’s Kindle.

What’s particularly interesting about the story is how perceptions have changed within the publishing industry and how “Barnes & Noble, once viewed as the brutal capitalist of the book trade, now seems so crucial to that industry’s future. Sure, you can buy bestsellers at Walmart and potboilers at the supermarket. But in many locales, Barnes & Noble is the only retailer offering a wide selection of books. If something were to happen to Barnes & Noble, if it were merely to scale back its ambitions, Amazon could become even more powerful and — well, the very thought makes publishers queasy.”

That’s because Amazon seems to increasingly in the business of disintermediating traditional publishers by setting up its own unit, allowing authors to publish their own books. And so, Barnes & Noble has a rooting section.

John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan publishing house, tells the , “Anybody who is an author, a publisher, or makes their living from distributing intellectual property in book form is badly hurt if Barnes & Noble does not prosper.”
KC's View:
I actually think that even readers are hurt if Barnes & Noble does not prosper. But...readers may not see it that way, and may not even care in the short-term. They want to buy books in a way that is convenient, relevant and economical ... not necessarily in that order.

Barnes & Noble may be fighting an uphill battle, but at least it is fighting ... which is more than you can say for Borders, which seemed utterly clueless about how to survive in a technology-driven world.

It is interesting that Barnes & Noble’s new CEO, William J. Lynch Jr., who comes from outside the publishing business, simultaneously describes the bookseller as “a technology company” but also has forged what the Times describes as “the friendliest relations between publishers and Barnes & Noble in recent memory.” Maybe it just requires someone who sees the world differently, who is not hemmed in by old assumptions and traditional thinking, to keep Barnes & Noble relevant.