"The enemy of my enemy is my friend." I'd always thought that this was one of those ponderous Machiavelli quotes. It turns out that it is ancient and Arabic, and it certainly had me in its grip when I read many of the articles this week on the poor December sales at Barnes and Noble. Retail sales from its bookstore and website are down 11%. Sales in its e-reader Nook division, in which they have invested many millions, are down 12.6%.
Now you might think that I would be happy to hear that one of the preeminent box stores was in trouble. Barnes and Noble has led the charge against independent bookstores in the last 15 years. But no, this is a disaster. You see, Barnes and Noble has been in a war with Amazon, and to be in the war you have to duel with prices, and of course you have to bully your suppliers. The race to the bottom price is perhaps good for consumers, but when Amazon finally demolishes everyone, including publishers, they will be the only game in town. A world in which Amazon is the only seller and publisher is kind of scary, don’t you think? Of these two enemies, I think that Barnes and Noble is my friend. And I hate to say it, but good luck to them!