Thanks to a load of long-term debt and flagging sales, Barnes & Noble's days on this planet may be numbered. But Alex Shephard writes for the New Republic that although there may be a temptation to "gloat, the death of Barnes & Noble would be catastrophic—not just for publishing houses and the writers they publish, but for American culture as a whole." First, up to 30% of some publishing houses' sales can still be tied back to Barnes & Noble, he writes. And publishers rely on the giant advance orders that B&N places: Independent book stores often don't have the funds to place more than a token few of these orders, while sites like Amazon prefer to order just a few books in advance at a time to manipulate customers into scooping up in-demand titles. The money publishers get from B&N helps them send authors on book tours and otherwise pay to advertise their creations.
But what Shephard really worries about is the quality of lit we'll start to see if Barnes & Noble shutters. Big names like James Patterson won't suffer, nor will romance, sci-fi, and commercial fiction writers, all of whom have adapted to lower prices or have enough of an audience to do well no matter where they're sold. It's the unknown authors of literary fiction who will most pay the price. "In a world without Barnes & Noble, risk-averse publishers will double down on celebrity authors and surefire hits," Shephard writes. Without B&N and corporate publishers, "the kinds of books that challenge us, that spark intellectual debates, that push society to be better, will start to disappear." Soon, "we'll be adrift in a sea of pulp." (Read his entire piece here.)