When I entered my local Barnes & Noble this afternoon, in the mood for a good browse, I made the disquieting discovery that it’s not all that easy, even in this last bookstore standing, actually to find books.
You can find a lot of other things for sale before you even get close to a real, live book–things that might appeal to people who would buy books, if they could only find books to buy. In fact, there were so many non-book offerings that I found myself making a list.
You can buy a Nook. If objects had feelings, how would physical books on Barnes & Noble shelves feel about the Nook? Probably a lot like the way Woody feels about Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story. That he’s seen the future and he’s not included. But that’s how the Nook must feel about the Kindle, because B&N is in an arms race with a much more powerful competitor, and that’s a race the Nook is destined to lose.
If you already have a Nook, then you can buy a cover for it, in many different varieties.
If you don’t want a Nook, you can still buy 2013 calendars, big and small, desk and wall, with attractive photos of cats, Stockholm, or race cars.
You can buy notebooks of all different bindings, shapes and sizes.
You can buy boxes of tea.
You can buy Halloween cards, and on a separate table, scary Halloween toys. Okay, just the prices are scary.
You can buy gift cards, greeting cards, and high-end birthday cards-the kinds that fold out and have a nice display.
You can buy maps, presumably to places where you’ll be traveling with your Nook.
You can buy a Hobbit anniversary tote bag, which you can take on the trip you plan with your new maps.
You can buy an umbrella, which is weird, because I live in Southern California and people here open umbrellas about as often as they open books.
You can buy a crystal set, a toy truck, or a lunch box for your child, who’s probably playing Minecraft instead of reading books or even playing with toy trucks or crystals or eating lunch.
You can buy a magazine, in case you want some printed words, but not too many.
You can buy a bookmark, which is odd, because what’s the point of a bookmark if you aren’t reading a book?
You can buy chocolates, and not just any chocolate but Godiva chocolate, which is very expensive chocolate, indeed. You could buy a book for the cost of a box or two of Godiva chocolates, but only if you can actually find a book to buy.
You could buy batteries, which books don’t require.
You could buy a Thomas Guide, which is technically a book, but it’s actually a book of maps you put in your car in case you buy an iPhone 5 and you don’t like Apple Maps. Can anyone still read a real map today? Who buys Thomas Guides?
You could buy a Hunger Games bag, in order to tell the world that you’ve heard of Hunger Games and maybe seen the movie. You could also put your chocolates and notebook in the bag. There’ll be plenty of room, since you won’t be weighing it down with books, since you can’t find them.
You could buy a collection of Sudoku puzzles, which don’t even have letters; just numbers.
You could buy gift bags and tissue paper, but you probably won’t be wrapping a book in it anytime soon.
You could buy Lego Architecture kits for your children who don’t have any more patience to read books than adults. Even just getting them off Minecraft will be an accomplishment.
You could buy speakers, headphones, and other accouterments for your mobile devices.
You could buy Frankenweenie toys. Don’t even ask.
Or lapdesks, in case you want to read a book on your lap.
Book not included.
Really? Magnifying glasses? To examine the crystals your kid isn’t playing with, because he’s addicted to Minecraft?
I could go on, but you get the point. You’ve got to wade through all these non-book items before you find your first best seller.
Last year, QVC’s parent company nearly bought Barnes & Noble, in order to have all those stores in which to sell non-book items like jewelry and vitamins. The deal didn’t go through.
Or maybe it did, but they didn’t change the signs on the store or tell the customers.
Okay, Barnes & Noble isn’t really ashamed of books.
Just of how poorly they sell.