Saturday, July 31, 2010

An Open Letter to Barnes and Noble

Dear Sirs:

You have disgraced yourselves. I am sorry to have to be the one to inform you of this; I, who have spent many happy hours perusing the shelves of your bookstore, who was weaned, as it were, on the smell of the new books emanating from your bookshelves.

Are you catching my drift yet, noble sirs? Why would I put book in my opening paragraph so many times?

I will cease the semantics, sever the cleverness.

I am talking about this abomination you call the Nook.

Perhaps there is a place for e-readers: perhaps. I am thoroughly unconvinced on the subject, but we will grant it for the sake of argument. But if there is a place for them, and if they must be sold, this is not the way to go about it.

Placing a large, rather sleekly garish desk directly in front of the entrances to all of your stores, with sleekly cool-looking men or sexlessly attractive women with grins on their faces and a general attitude as if they are Jehovah's Witnesses here to convert all of the sheeple to their new faith is both blatant and blatantly wrongheaded. We are the descendants of people who formed a new country because the old one was forcing unwanted tea upon us: what else can you, using the abovementioned tactics, expect from these people but outright rebellion? And while rebellion is a heady topic for literature, it is not conducive to the selling of electronics.

Which brings up another point: the fact that this product is, essentially, a more useless iPod. Why are you selling such a thing in your store? The obtusely illustrative stack of books with prices comparing their print versions to their e-versions is potent advertising, it is true. But the fact remains that this product costs $149, plus the cost of whatever books one wants. The latter cost, while more affordable than new hard copies, is not much (if at all) less than one could pay for an actual book at almost any used bookstore.

This is where you are particularly wrong, I daresay even disgraceful, my good sirs. For books are, have long been, and ought always to be something for the masses. They ought to be something that not only the well-dressed businessman or working parent with more disposable income than ideas of how to spend it can afford. Their very appeal lies in the fact that they are affordable to the poor college student, the vagrant off the street, the child with his or her allowance money or hard-earned yard-raking or lawn-mowing or grifting money. There is much appeal to the fact that one can come in with a ten-dollar bill and leave with a brain-stimulating classic or a soul-satisfying romance. There is, furthermore, the fact that one can leave a seven-dollar paperback behind on a bus, or have it rained upon, and treat the matter with a shrug and conceivably buy a new copy the next day. Now, if a $149 e-reader gets left behind on a bus, or rained upon and ruined, even the increasingly small percentage of your clientèle who can afford said bauble will probably treat its demise with more agitation than that.

Speaking of agitation, I have one (or possibly two) more complaints before I post* this. What is greatly agitating is the amount of advertising for the e-reader that occurs in your store. I am often looking, in an access of perfect happiness, at a literature or a science fiction section full of good old (well, new) books, only to have thrust into my sight a sign advertising SAVE MONEY WITH THE NOOK, or similar Advertising Department drivel. The amount of signage and other advertisement begins to make your store take on the aspect of a desperate high school nerd begging a girl who is, as they say, way out of his league, to go to prom with him: PLEASE LOVE ME, the Nook ads seem to say; OR PLEASE NOTICE ME, AT LEAST! AT LEAST CONSIDER NOTICING ME! PLEASE?

Finally, there are the rumors that go around concerning the Nook. I am sure you are aware of them, and I myself am certainly aware of how outlandish are the claims they make. Still, the sheer amount and the terrier-like persistence of said rumors does make one wonder. You know the ones: The Nook eats babies, The Nook is a tool of the Devil, The Nook eats the soul of its owners. Things like that. Clearly unfounded speculation.

Sirs, I have stated my opinion. It was probably a useless thing to do, but at least it made me feel better. It is my hope that you take these things into consideration, and do not end up like the nerdy kid, sitting at home on prom night, weeping because the girl he loves went to the dance with the big dumb football player who reads actual books. But you won't let that be you. Right?

Yours Truly,
Captain Stormfield

P.S. I have a solution: Take all the money you are pouring into Nook advertisements, and invest it in installing special B&N bars next to your cafes. Think about the sheer amount of writers who have been alcoholics; probably a greater number than ever frequented coffee houses. Think of the mural! Twain and Hemingway, over their respective Scotch and Absinthe, laughing over a fallen Scott Fitzgerald, his jug of moonshine clutched to him the way he once held Zelda... Plus, if your store had a bar it would scare away those people who come to your store only to flirt because your store doesn't have a bar. All I ask is that you think about it.

*Note that "post" here can refer to the posting of mail, i.e., the traditional way to send a letter, even an open one.


Anan said...

*sniff* It's so beautiful! I think I'll write a short e-story about it! *sniff*

Parade Rest said...

I suppose a similar rant against using electronic media, such as blogs, for publishing open letters is in order (he types from his smartphone with e-reader). But I won't go there. Too easy.

The Celebrated Author said...


Critical said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Critical said...

I actually took the liberty of penning a small rebuttal of your critique, or more aptly a critique of your critique.

If you'd enjoy viewing such an item please drop by:

Nat said...

I'm actually particularly tempted by e-Book readers (Sony ones, though; the Nook is more flawed), and the only reason I haven't tried to get one yet is the expanse between technology and price is simply too big; which is to say, if they cost $50, or if the OS was as advanced as say, the little palm computer I got a decade ago, then I would be all over them.

I never even consider buying books for them a possibility, though. And the idea of reading blogs or news sites on them, while attractive, seems overly complex. No, my dream is to get one of those suckers, put the complete works of Shakespeare, Lovecraft, Chesterton, Doyle, etc. on it, and call it a day.