Barnes & Noble is one of the oldest bookstores in America; the store that would later become the first Barnes & Noble was opened in 1886. Barnes & Noble rose to success during the golden age of bookstores – which, yes, was also the age before ereaders existed. To its credit, in addition to its robust online bookstore, Barnes & Noble is one of the only major US retail booksellers with brick-and-mortar locations still standing (at about one-third the size of Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million is a very distant second).
Of the ten New York Times bestselling books we used to compare the selections of online bookstores, Barnes & Noble carried each title in print and ebook versions, and all but one in audio. Barnes & Noble also ranked right behind Amazon for lowest prices, making it our second-place contender in this category. In addition to new and collectible print books, Barnes & Noble also offers magazines, music, movies, tv shows and an affiliated used-book marketplace on its site, as well as large libraries of ebooks and audio books. It also offers students the option to buy new or used textbooks and sell back old textbooks.
Barnes & Noble’s site is well-organized and easy-to-use. There are features for basic and advanced searches, browsing by category and saving a wishlist. Barnes & Noble also features a distinct benefit of having 658 brick-and-mortar stores nationwide: you can locate and reserve a book at a store near you, then simply go pick it up instead of waiting for it to arrive in the mail.
For the reader who likes to research before buying, Barnes & Noble offers ample editorial and user reviews of its titles, as well as a section of tabs called More About This Book. This section includes information such as the suggested reader’s age, related categories to browse, a profile of the author, interviews with the author, excerpts of the book and more. The information Barnes & Noble includes about each title and author is much more thorough than what we found on any other online bookstore we reviewed.
For the avid ebook reader, Barnes & Noble manufactures a line of NOOK devices and over one million ebook titles, including a massive section of under-$5 titles as well as Book Bundles, which are series of books that can be purchased as packages in order to save money.
Barnes & Noble also offers an inexpensive membership program with lots of perks. For a $25 annual fee, Barnes & Noble Members receive 40% off hardcover bestsellers, 10% off other items, free express shipping with no minimum purchase required and member-exclusive coupons. In terms of the cost-to-benefit ratio, this is the best membership package we saw during our review process.
Barnes & Noble supports charitable causes by sponsoring and donating to a variety of literary, arts and educational organizations at the local and national levels. Barnes & Noble’s 2013 Holiday Book Drive succeeded in collecting over 1.5 million books that were distributed to children in need through local charities across America. Its Summer Reading Program “fosters literacy and puts more than one million books in the hands of children each year.” Barnes & Noble also participates in local book fairs, supplies local libraries with books and invites children to visit its store locations for free storytimes and activities.
As with the Kindle, the NOOK is primarily intended to support NOOK books. If you’d like to read a file format other than a PDB, PRC or ePub on your NOOK, you’ll need to either convert the file or download another app to read it on. This can be a hassle for readers who have acquired an extensive ebook collection from other sources.
While Barnes & Noble’s basic search function worked pretty well, sometimes it’s necessary to conduct a more advanced search – but you’ll have a hard time finding where to click to do so. We found the Advanced Search option at the very bottom of the site under the internal footer links. This is a minor gripe but it could cause some serious frustration if you’re in a hurry and find yourself having to ironically search for the Advanced Search.
Despite its long-time reputation as a go-to bookseller, Barnes & Noble has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau. Of the 696 complaints filed against Barnes & Noble in the past three years, the company has failed to respond to 111 of them – which has drastically lowered the Bureau’s rating.