A few weeks ago, I allowed my Barnes & Noble membership to lapse. I applied for the membership card with its $25 annual fee many years ago, back when the book superstore was king, and young couples looking for a cheap date would spend their evenings browsing books at stores like B&N, Borders, and Tower Books. Then came the Kindle.
Convenient and portable ebooks have been around since the 1990s, but it was the introduction of the Amazon Kindle in 2009 that transformed how people read and, more importantly for my membership status, how much readers paid for their books. Barnes & Noble shops typically charged the full cover price for most works on their shelves, with standard discounts focusing on New York Times bestsellers and a few other sale items. With a membership, you could get 40% off of the latest $26.95 release. But even at just over $16 for a bundle of 400 or so pages, it was hard to compete with $9.95 for the same item in digital, especially after you paid out $25 for the privilege of getting that lower hardcover price.
I held out for as long as I could, being as devoted as I am to the printed book. But as my ebook purchases increased in inverse proportion to my physical book acquisitions, I had to question the value of being a recipient of exclusive offers for high-priced hardcover books. Sure, I could get thirty cents off of my Starbucks drink purchases from the in-store café, not to mention free shipping from the online store. But shipping is already free on ebooks, and I don’t like coffee.
I won’t stop buying traditionally printed books, and I’ll continue to browse and purchase books from my local Barnes & Noble. But unless they lower the cost of their membership program dramatically, I’ll do that browsing and shopping as an anonymous guest of the establishment instead.