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Bookstore of the week: Barnes & Noble in Pasadena

December 23, 2010 |  7:47 am

  Barnesandnoble_pasadena

Last week Jacket Copy featured its very first bookstore of the week, Village Books in Pacific Palisades. This week, the idea was that we'd bring you a Barnes & Noble. I selected the one in Pasadena's Old Town, a neighborhood with street-front shops and lots of pedestrian traffic.

I wasn't entirely comfortable with the choice. The big-box chain Barnes & Noble, along with the now not-so-relevant Borders, made it harder for small local bookstores to survive. It wasn't just that B&N had bigger selections: chain bookstores can buy at bigger volumes and sell at lower prices. Now, of course, Amazon is a rival to all brick-and-mortar book retailers. And since lots of book-lovers like shopping at Barnes & Noble, it seemed like a good idea to check one out -- so off I went.

I was ready to enjoy the benefits of the big-box store. It has a huge selection, corners for readers to hunker down in and check out books, lots of shiny magazines, book-related tchotchkes, a coffee shop, and free Wi-Fi in the mornings -- basically, just about everything you might want out of a bookstore, except for public restrooms. It even, right inside the store's front doors, has a big Nook display with a staff person standing by, ready to show it off.

Amazon_kindle_no1 E-readers are expected to come into their own this holiday season. Amazon clearly has the lead in the e-reader device wars, and it makes clear to site visitors just how popular its Kindle is: It's the site's bestselling, most-wished-for and most-gifted product. But Barnes & Noble has something Amazon doesn't: those brick-and-mortar stores, where the e-reader curious can put their hands on the Barnes & Noble Nook, feel its heft, push its buttons, take the thing for a spin. 

What you're expecting, savvy reader, is a photo of the Nook in action, its brightly colored kiosk, its helpful Nook-selling staffer.

However, the staffer holding the Nook at Barnes & Noble in Pasadena would not allow photographs -- not of the Nook, not of the promotional materials surrounding the Nook, not of herself. I hadn't said I was from a media organization -- just dumped my umbrella in a nearby bin, pulled out my wee point-and-shoot camera and said, "Hey, is that the Nook? Can I take a picture of you with it?"

Nope. Nor could I photograph anything inside the store, I was told. So I have no photos of the books piled high, the festive holiday decor, the steamy cappuccinos in the cafe.

Of course, I could have contacted Barnes & Noble's corporate headquarters in New York and asked the communications department for permission to photograph the Nook in situ. What that would have gotten me: a corporate-planned engagement with the store. I just wanted to represent it as it appears to any old consumer. Heck, I am one -- I've bought books there before.

This un-photo-friendly experience points to an underlying difference between chain bookstores and local independents. No independent bookstore I've been to has taken measures to prevent photography. Most of the independents I've encountered want to spread the word about their stores, what they sell, what they do -- because they're excited about it. Instead of fostering this kind of enthusiasm, the corporate culture of Barnes & Noble seems to be focused on controlling the message.

This seems like misplaced concern. Today, the Internet provides a nearly endless public commons, where people share their enthusiasms. Why not let people who want to shoot the Nook become a million points of light, promoting it just for fun? 

Of course, I could tell the story of this chain bookstore without photographs. But that's part of these posts -- to provide the look and feel of a store, to let its personality shine.

Since I can't, let's leave it at this: If there's a Barnes & Noble near you, it's probably a lot like the one I visited in Pasadena.

 -- Carolyn Kellogg

Top photo: The exterior of the Barnes & Noble in Pasadena's Old Town, Dec. 22, 2010. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

Bottom image: Screen shot from Amazon.com's homepage, Dec. 22, 2010.

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