John Oliver's April Fool's Day (Or, Technology Troubles – Day 3)
An Old Woman Plans, God Laughs

Technology Adventure with Barnes & Noble (Or, Technology Troubles – Final Day)

The internet has not been kind to bookstores especially the small independents that have played such an important part of communities for at least a couple of hundred of years and are such a pleasure to visit.

Two I know and love that are still around are Three Lives in Manhattan and Annie Bloom's in Portland, Oregon.

(There are also, respectively in those cities, the gigantic Strand and Powell's specializing in second-hand books but there probably should be a different category for stores as big as those.)

In addition, since the advent of the internet and especially Amazon, hundreds of chain bookstores in the U.S. have also closed their doors – among them, Borders, Crown, B.Dalton, Brentano's and more.

Much to my surprise, one that has survived is Barnes & Noble. There was a time, many years ago, when I thought it would be among the first to go. Let me tell you that story today and then we can put this technology-trouble interlude to bed and get back to the real TimeGoesBy.

The exact year is fuzzy but it was probably 2000. I had spent three years as managing editor at cbsnews.com and worked at a couple of other websites most recently, then, as vice president at an independent news startup that went bust after about a year.

The owner absconded owing me tens of thousands of dollars. I needed a job.

Barnes & Noble, headquartered in New York City where I lived, was looking for an editor to oversee all its web “content” - that awful internet label for words on a page tha humans write. Maybe that should have given me a clue.

However. I love books, I love the internet and as new as websites still were then, I had as much experience at building and running them as anyone else. Plus, the B&N offices were an easy mile's walk from my home.

Wow. Even with that word “content,” it felt like a perfect fit for me and my skills. Books, internet, close to home, a paycheck. What more could girl want in her internet career, especially when she was desperate for work.

A meeting was scheduled with the vice president of something and to help prepare myself, I visited one of the big B&N stores. I was already familiar with it but wanted to check it out from the perspective of working for the company.

At the counter, I asked about a book I couldn't find. It was not in the store right then, said the woman who then offered me a 10 or 15 percent discount coupon (I've forgotten which) for the book which she would order and I could pick up in a week.

When I asked if I could use the coupon instead at the B&N website and have the book mailed to me, she said that was not possible.

Oh, dear. Not a good sign for analog/digital integration nor for corporate growth in a new technology age but business was still finding its way on the internet and I would be working at the website, not the store. Things would soon be changing, I said to myself.

At home, I tried buying a book on the website. The design was difficult to follow and nothing was obvious. Links for moving through the site were hard to find and poorly labeled making it nearly impossible to get from the book page to the purchase page, but I persevered.

When, after 10 or 15 minutes of wrong pages, back-tracking and retrying, I finally had entered my personal and credit card information, the site refused to accept it, sending me back to the original search page.

Thinking this couldn't possibly be right and that I, not Barnes & Noble, had screwed up in some way, I did the whole thing again with the same result. And again the third time when I finally quit.

I had been stuck in a loop that made purchase impossible. Now, you'd think that would be an alert about the company but I so loved the thought of combining books and the internet in a job so close to home that I decided it was an opportunity to make a big difference by helping to correct a critical flaw.

At the interview, the vice president of something and I, having a fine old time, worked our way through all the usual subjects asking and answering one another's questions. Then I mentioned the website purchase glitch I had encountered.

The vice president's mood went from professionally cordial and interested to frigid. The web pages were written and designed, she said, by the developers, the techies.

At first I thought she was joking and almost laughed. But even though I caught myself in time I knew I wasn't hiding the shock I felt at what, without question, explained the online purchase problem.

After five or six years in the website business, I knew that it takes a team to build webpages and websites – the individual skills and talents of producers, writers, designers and developers combined. And you don't let the techies write the copy or decide layout and color palette any more than you ask me to write code.

The vice president of something made it clear that their organizational setup wasn't going to change and we both knew then that Barnes & Noble was not in my future.

My heart had been set on getting that job. I hadn't realized how much until I walked out onto the street that day and headed home, shocked at the unexpected outcome.

What I can see this week, all these years later, is that it was my first technology trouble. Not one of my own making as what happened this week, but trouble enough to lose out on what still sounds like a job made perfectly just for me.

Barnes & Noble long ago got its website fixed but its fate is far from secure as noted last week in New York magazine:

”The internet has not been kind to Barnes & Noble. Amazon manages to offer cheaper books and a more successful ereader. B&N was forced to close many of its locations in recent years as profits slowed.”

You would think, after my experience, I'd say good riddance but no. By the age of most people who read this blog, we all have our list of disappointments and I still wish I'd gotten that most perfect job.

Not to mention that B&N is the only large, real-world book store within reasonable distance from my home so I wish them well.


My current tech issues are as solved as they are going to be for now and almost everything is working well enough. Thank you for your patience through this week. I appreciate it and your humor.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Arlene Corwin: How to Tll Character by the Way He Butters Bread

Comments

Way to get your site rolling again, Ronni.

Book stores.

We love going to book stores in Montreal and Florida.

Lately we noticed some book stores in Florida have closed. Too bad, because what a smart way to kill off a rainy afternoon.

We bought books, had a coffee, read in a comfy chair. Nowadays, most big bookstores in Montreal sell all sorts of other items to keep their business afloat.

I walked into a Montreal book store and asked if they could order me a book. I didn't say it was my own book, just wanted to hear the response.

The clerk looked on the Internet and said no, they cannot order this book. It can only be ordered from Amazon.

I took my book to a few small book stores, and was rudely told they do not stock books sold on the big A.

My book would be an imposter. A Trojan horse, as it were.

Like a hippo on a ballroom floor, I imagine.

I found the response hilarious.

But the teacher in me found my own creative way to let people know about my book.

You dodged a bullet on that interview. instead of getting the job and being forced to bend to their rules, you found a different path.

You are your authentic self on your blog.

No boss, no dress code, Ollie standing by with a look of approval and serenity on his furry face.


We have a B&N plus a Bookstar version of B&N. I, like millions of others, don't go there. I use ABE Books or Alibris. Only in a pinch do I go to Amazons chain of used book stores. Then again, often the book I want comes through my own store the ACS Discovery Shop. LOL

Your B&N experience hit directly on one of the biggest, and least understandable, problems with our journey into the internet world.

Why in the world did anyone think it was a good idea to give techies sole control of computer technology within companies or government agencies? Yet, in my experience, that's exactly what happened.

After all these years of development, I still come across web sites that are incredibly user unfriendly. As you say, development teams are needed to create effective web sites. And the person in charge should be conversant with general communication theory and practices and also skilled in leading a group. Usually, that person is NOT a techie.

You mentioned Brentano's as one of those bookstores that are no longer in business. When I was going to college, at night, I used the Brentano's on Fifth Avenue as my personal research library. They had a larger selection of books in my field than the public library. My fear is that books and bookstores will go the way of newspapers and magazines and discontinue printed editions. While Kindle's are great, you can't thumb through the books for free.

When I lived near Boston I haunted Newtonville Books, an indie that's still open and that's pure delight. They have several free book clubs. At one of them Atul Gawande led a discussion of one of the classics I'll never forget.

I assume the store stays open only because there are enough voracious readers there to make it possible, but what a boon. Nothing like it here in Florida.

I love my Nook; please, world, don't take it away from me. It's bigger and better than my husband's Kindle.
I'm sorry that BandN weren't smart enough to hire you, Ronni.

I love holding a book. We have three small book stores in Walla Walla, all will order for you if they can, and two are big into used books. There are two charitable outlets with book sections. I love browsing through them but I do miss being able to have coffee (and a brownie) and browse at the same time. The nearest B&N is over an hour away, too far for an evening's browse for me. I Amazon as a last resort.

There is so much about the new world of tech (yes, still new) to which the parable of the emperor with no clothes would apply.

I think fate was on your side when the job didn't pan out for you. Think how miserable you would have been having to do things the wrong way just because the person in charge forced you to. You would have suffered so much frustration that you would have been crabby all the time.

It seems that another malady has been added to my aging body. I now have what appears to be arthritis in my right hand, so holding a book will now be difficult. I am grateful that Kindle was developed in time to help me. And I am doubly grateful that I can order and receive books from my computer hair.

We do have a lovely book store named "Antigone" locally owned by two women that has withstood the big box book stores and the Internet. I hope they continue to survive.

Your ordering process with B&N, all the way back in 2000, describes the experience I just had with Nordstroms on my iPhone. I could not get the order completed and gave up. Fifteen years later, newer device, and there are still glitches. Sheesh.

One B&N has survived in Fort Worth. I still go there since it is near my home, and I like the magazine section. Most of the store, however, looks like a toy shop-- lots of pink plastic everywhere. I never buy books there. I request books from the library via Internet, and order for my kindle if it is not available. Don't see how B&N can last.

I've mourned the demise of bookstores for years. I've watched them fall like dominoes as the chain stores killed the private stores and the internet killed the chain stores. Here in the north Denver metro, there's a B&N a few miles away that I rarely visit. Don't know how they've survived. Denver, however, is blessed with the 40-year-old privately owned Tattered Cover bookstore, with 3 locations in the metro, all 15 miles or more away from me. The downtown store is actually a tourist attraction and was one of the first places my son took me before I actually moved here. Such a shame it's so far away. I miss the little neighborhood bookstores. Technology can never replace them, and electronic books will never be the same as actual printed books.

Meg...
YES, the B&N magazine section. One of the things I miss so much about Manhattan is the plethora of magazine STORES - entire shops with nothing but hundreds of magazines.

Well, they also sell cigarettes and double as head shops but oh my, the magazines.

Where I live now, the only reasonably good magazine shop (and that's all it is - reasonably good) is at B&N.

However, I badly wanted the new issue of Paris Review this week and B&N didn't have it.

The closest store was a ten mile drive which seems excessive for one magazine so I paid extra to order it online.

That vice president of something made a HUGE mistake by not hiring you. Just think of all the problems you could have eliminated for them as you coordinated the efforts of techies and human writers of good copy! But I guess we have to let bygones be bygones. Your blog here is a great resource for many people, and you probably would not have had time to write it if you had gotten the B&N job.

Glad your personal internet problems are solved. A great relief, I bet!

Very glad to hear that your technology troubles are resolved Ronni. Dealing with those can be so frustrating.

I mourned the loss of our local Borders a few years ago, and have never been a fan of B & N, so hardly ever visit it the one here. Years ago, my husband and I loved to search out small independent bookstores when we were out and about, but we're rarely out and about any more, and I rarely buy new books these days. When I come across one I think I can't live without, I often get the Kindle version. Mostly, we go to used book sales, which many churches and libraries use as fundraising events. (The Unitarians generally have an especially good selection.) Occasionally I will come across an estate sale of someone who had very good taste in books (or at least seemed to share mine) and often find some there.

More recently I began volunteering with our local public library one morning a week, shelving books that have been donated to the library for their sales, and ones that have been culled from the library's collection Not only do I get to see and handle lots of books every week, but anything I'd like, that would otherwise go on the shelves until time for a sale, I can pick up for a quarter, since that's what everything is sold for in the sales. I've managed to be remarkably restrained in what I've brought home in the four months since I began this.

Glad you're up and running again, Ronni. That's good news for you and for TGB readers. If someone with your web experience gets temporarily sidelined by tech, it's not hard to imagine what would befall average, barely-computer-literate blobs like me! You'd have been perfect in the B&N job but you'd probably have hated it.

I prefer books and magazines over tablets and smartphones for reading--it's not even close for me.

While I have a Kindle -- please do not take printed books away from me!

When I lived in Colorado, I regularly visited the public library, but also bought books both at new- and used-book stores. I also frequented garage sales that listed books in their ads.

Now I live in a small town in Tennessee and my husband and I own more books than the local public library. The library is tiny and is continually selling books that they cull from their shelves so that they can buy more books. They will sell classic books for $1, and buy new paperbacks of romance novels -- ugh!

Good discussion on books -- so many ways to enjoy purchasing books. One thought I would like to add to the book discussion mix is milage/carbon emmisions -- how far will one drive to find the book they want. -- barbara

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