I must have been living under a rock. Until the advent of agency pricing, I didn’t realize the contentiousness and longevity of the thirty years’ book wars. Oh, I do remember talking with one of my favorite book sellers – a retired teacher that opened a book store in Memphis. She shared that she was having a difficult time competing with Waldenbooks. And I remember her talking in dismay about the proposed purchase of Ingram Book Group Inc. by Barnes and Noble. And sure I watched the 1998 comedy, “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks’s Fox & Sons Books putting out of business Meg Ryan’s Shop Around the Corner. However I moved away to a smaller town, and became cocooned against the bookstore closings. Then in the spring of 2010, agency pricing got my attention in a big way. Since then I’ve tried to keep up with the current changes.
While Amazon is considered a disruptor company for many of the changes today – hated by independent book store owners and publishers, especially after they promoted their price-check app over the Christmas holidays, in the 80’s and 90’s Barnes and Noble was considered the “brutal capitalist” of booksellers. And its history is extremely interesting, considering what has been happening in the book world of late. Barnes and Noble was the first major bookseller to discount books, by selling The New York Times best-selling titles at 40% off the publishers’ list price. In the eighties they bought up chain book stores like B. Dalton, Doubleday Book Shops, and Bookstop. In 1998 they tried to purchase Ingram Book Group Inc., the largest book wholesaler in the United States but were unable to do so because of antitrust concerns. Supposedly one reason Waldenbooks and Borders opened so many stores was to keep up with Barnes and Noble’s superstores.
In 1996 B&N expanded into Canada with a 20 percent stake in Chapters Inc., the largest book retailer there, but sold it three years later. And then it tried to expand into the digital world, but the timing was a little off. As noted in this Wall Stree Journal article, “In 1998, they