There’s a peculiar phenomenon by which year-old articles sometimes show up again in news aggregators and social network feeds that for some reason see the month and day part of the date and miss the year. (It’s gotten me in trouble before.)

But today it brings up an interesting blog post I missed the first time around. And while a lot has changed since the post was written in March 2013, it still bears a little bit of thinking about: might or should Amazon buy the struggling Barnes & Noble?

There’s been a lot of speculation about Amazon building out retail spaces so it can go head to head with bookstores and big box stores both, let people try its Kindle devices hands-on, and provide a safe place for people to pick up deliveries. But building a network of stores takes time. It’s much faster to buy a chain that already exists. So you see things like FedEx buying Kinko’s so they could go head to head with The UPS Store…which, in turn, used to be Mailboxes, Etc. before the UPS bought them. By the same token, Amazon buying Barnes & Noble would give them instant retail store cred. They wouldn’t even have to reconfigure the stores beyond changing the logos, because they’d be set up to sell books and e-readers already.

Of course, if Amazon wanted a bookstore chain, they had a golden opportunity a few years back when Borders went under. But it would probably have been too early for them at that point anyway.

And the idea does have a few obvious problems. One is the sales tax issue: Amazon would have to start collecting sales taxes in every state it has a physical location. Of course, it collects tax in almost half the states already, and the writing is on the wall that it will have to go national sooner or later. It’s playing for time at this point, closing down affiliate accounts to keep from having to collect taxes where it can. But when that no longer becomes feasible, there will be nothing stopping Amazon from rolling out chain stores.

Perhaps the most obvious problem is the monopoly issue. Barnes & Noble is just about the only credible competitor Amazon has in the e-book and Internet-order book businesses. I find it hard to believe the government would allow Amazon to buy its closest competitor. (Apple-fan conspiracy theorists need not apply.) If Barnes & Noble spins off its ailing e-book division, that might change; Amazon could buy just the brick-and-mortar part and let the e-book business go its own merry way. But on the other hand, the retail chain side of B&N is the one area where the company is actually doing reasonably well. It’s hard to believe it would be easy to buy it.

But then again, if a couple of years down the road, Amazon winds up collecting sales tax everywhere anyway, and B&N goes down the same bankruptcy toilet Borders did, all bets might just be off.

(Found via The Passive Voice.)


  1. There’s another, more tantalising aspect to Amazon buying high-street stores. Amazon is also a rapidly-growing book publisher. Can you imagine how attractive a publishing contract (or even a self-publishing package) could be with a publisher that owns a chain of bookshops?