Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The End of an Era: The Decline of Barnes & Noble Book Clubs

On October 24th, 2008, my world changed for the better.  I'm not even sure how I stumbled upon it, but around 10:35 pm, I joined a community that will live in my heart for the rest of my life.  

I've always loved to read, but never really had people around me who shared my passion.  And until I stumbled upon the Barnes & Noble community book clubs, I didn't realized what I was missing out on.  I finally found a forum where I could not only discuss my love of books, but was able to indulge in conversation with individuals who were just as passionate as I am.  

When I first joined the boards, it was a thriving community with engaged admins and moderators who steered the conversations and did their best to split up fights and arguments.  And believe me, with this many opinionated, passionate members, there were plenty of those to be broken up.  I quickly found a place among them, and even with those I regularly disagreed with, Everyman & thewanderingjew quickly come to mind, I at least knew the conversation would be lively and long.  Whether we were discussing a particular book, politics, or the arts; the conversations could drag out for hours, even days, and they were wonderful to participate in or even just watch.

I became an addict of a handful of boards; Mystery, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Current Events, Literature by Women, and Fiction General Discussion.  These boards were lead by intelligent moderators, all of whom influenced my reading and the way I looked at a particular subject or book.  I owe a big thanks to Becke, Paul, Jon & Monty, Melissa, and Debbie for the way they led the discussions.  Sometimes they got to involved, Monty, but at least they maintained some of the most energetic boards on the site.

After a while though, some of the members started to drop off, they were either banned for being jerks, left for others reasons, or even just found other outlets for their discussions.  Then the site started to change, and not normally for the better.  They added a laurel and title aspect to the boards.  I actually owe the name of this blog to their toying around.  One of my favorites on the board, Kathy, started a discussion making light of the system, I and others joined in, and the Kingdom of Wordsmithonia was born.  What started as a minor discussion in the Community board, turned into it's own rather fantasy heavy board of it's own.  We had a King and nobles who lived in castles and ruled over fantastical realms of their own.  It was so much fun, and when it first started, most of the regular members of the community were joining in the fun.  

When, with the wonderful example of another board member, Deb, I decided to start my own blog, Wordsmithonia was the logical choice to name it.  Without these boards, I would not be blogging, and if nothing else, I owe everyone I met, a big thank you.

Then the storm clouds started to form above the community, and Barnes & Noble nailed in one of the last nails in the coffin.  They changed the formatting, and in doing so, turned off a lot of regular members, who quickly dropped out.  I could have dealt with the format changes, but whatever they did also caused a lot of us to have problems logging in.  I would go for months without being able to access the boards, and half the time when I could log in, I couldn't comment.  After a while, I got in the habit of not even trying and it would be months in between attempts. Once they got all the kinks worked out, many of the people I knew where no longer there and some of the boards were pretty much silent.

You add that to B&N's focus on the Nook boards, and it seemed that the lively community I had first joined was replaced by a ghost town.  There were a few boards that were still pretty active, but no matter how much I wanted to stick around, I would find myself wandering away for months at a time.  I think we all knew we were witnessing the end of the boards, and nobody was really happy with the way things were going.  They started to let go of the admins and the moderators, and they really didn't seem to care about the community they used to foster.

The boards will be going silent after April 30th of this year, and the end of an era will be over.  So after almost six years, 94,532 minutes spent in discussion, and 3,291 posts, it's time to say goodbye.  I owe so much to the boards and to the people I met there.  I'm actually friends with quite a few of them still, so I at least know those conversations won't be ending anytime soon.


Angela's Anxious Life said...

I have heard about this lately. But I don't know if it's just not all online book clubs. I think it was a new big thing and now it has just dropped off. My two goodreads groups has really lost participation in the last year. I used to invite authors to do Q&As but when I can't get the members to even participate in those I just quit that all together. Time moves on.

The Reading Frenzy said...

Ryan, what a gracious, wonderful post and thank you for all the exciting, memorable conversations that you participated in on my board. I've been a member since way back during the times of B&N University then graduated to the B&N book clubs. I will miss those glory days.
There are some things that B&N didn't do right and that will always bother me. They fired all the moderators over a year ago and wouldn't let us tell our members. I did have to tell my publisher contacts and my authors because they weren't supporting the forums anymore and I didn't think it was fair to invite guests who couldn't log in or join in a conversation. My blog also stemmed from the forums.
Ryan I know we'll stay in touch even with this sad day.

Becke Davis said...

Aw, Ryan, this brings back a lot of memories! I'd forgotten about Everyman - I wonder where he is now. We've had ups and downs on the boards, but many of us formed a family of passionate readers, and I hope we'll all keep that bond once the boards are gone. I tend to forget the bad experiences (the dag-gone sign in glitch was my pet peeve) and remember the fun times.

To me the saddest thing is that B&N never really appreciated the loyalty of the forum participants or what a force the community boards could become. What a loss!

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

B&N forum boards were my first venture in the internet and really involved with others in books. Like you I was inspired (I believe from YOU) to start my blog from being there too.

I found I missed all the lively discussions we use to have over books there. All the normal visitors disappeared.

I use to sit starring at the forums, seeing instant responses show up. Then one day there were no answers for days, weeks even.

Sadly I knew it was coming, but it's still hard to see. I'm with you on this one completely.