My impending unemployment has led to a lot of thought pockets and questions. Is this the end of something? Should I take time off to write? Just what the fuck am I going to do, anyway?
I’ve been working at the same Barnes & Noble bookstore for nearly seven years. In two weeks, the store is closing. A drugstore is replacing us. This is mostly a property rental issue and not one of the business going under, but the simple fact that B&N can’t afford to pay as much as a drugstore is telling of the times.
I’m not even talking about electronic books. I’m talking about the end of the ‘middle man’. Customers are becoming self-reliant. They no longer wish to depend on a clerk to sell them something, or a cashier to ring their purchase through a register, or even a bookseller to get the product from the store into their hands. Shopping online gives them the comforting illusion of self control. There are fewer steps between making the art and consuming the art.
Instead of downsizing, Barnes and Noble needs to specialize, because that is what people will still pay for: expertise. You can no longer make it in the retail world selling one kind of thing. You need to either sell a specialty item – something people can’t get anywhere else – or sell everything.
People go to massive retailers for generic products, but they will still pay for small mindfulness. If Barnes & Noble would stop carrying every book on the market – the bestsellers you can find at CostCo and Target – and focus on art books, travel books, and other things you can’t read on Nook or Kindle, they would have a much better chance of staying in business.
So listen, Barnes & Noble, to this proposal: eliminate the gigantic fiction section and expand on illustration. Ignore the half-assed political diatribes and keep fancy journals on your shelves. Remember that a real book is an entirely tactile experience, so books with unique binding and gorgeous covers will still sell to collectors. Pretend that you deal in rare coins: pennies are worth nothing anymore, but silver dollars are. CDs are dying, but vinyl is still exciting.
Become less generic, B&N, and more like the employees who work your stores: eccentric, versatile, and interested in books not just for information, which you can get anywhere, but for character.
Change is good.
And I was forgetting that. I was becoming lazy, overly comfortable, stagnant in a job that’s become predictable and easy. I haven’t worked on publishing in far too long. I haven’t gone out, shared excitement. I tried to write this off as turning into a boring old fart, but as I mentioned in my article about the vivid inspiration of Adam Lambert, there is never an excuse for becoming overly content – sometimes I just need a reminder of what I should be doing, or the shock of something new.
I need to be rocked out of complacence.
That is why we lose our jobs, why we fall in love with people who will make life difficult, why my laptop crashes every couple of years and I’m forced use paper and talk to people, why we take risks and win things and lose them and start all over again. So we don’t settle.
I want to stay with Barnes & Noble, but I’m going to keep my ears open, creating and editing. People pay me for my expertise, not my mundane ability to ring up a barcode. Maybe I could use a company shift the way my company needs a user shift.
My niche has always been movement. It’s the basis of creation. I take comfort in knowing that things won’t last. The drive can’t ever stop. I can’t ever stop.
Quick decisions. Lost jobs. Strange affairs. It’s all circular. There is no danger.