Self-publishing expert Henry Hutton just posted an interesting question on his blog, and I felt compelled to chime in.

Henry’s question: “Will [Barnes & Noble] find sustainable footing for a bright future?”

I remember hearing about Barnes & Noble back when I was in high school. (I am old enough to remember the days when we didn’t have Kindles, iPads, or even laptop computers!) Even back then, paper books didn’t make Barnes & Noble unique. It was their atmosphere that people talked about. It was inviting, and it was the kind of place where you could invite your friends to hang out – and people often did. When I was in college, a number of us would often go there to study.

I think that continuing to create an inviting atmosphere will have to be part of B&N’s strategy, unless they decide to become an online-focused company (which would surprise me). Wal-Mart is known for having put up a sign in their boardroom that read, “You can’t out-Amazon Amazon.” I don’t think Barnes & Noble can either, and I don’t think they should try.

Here’s the million-dollar question B&N needs to consider. How can they create sustainable profitability by focusing on creating an outstanding retail experience? I don’t know the answer, but my gut says that it’s the right question. As I see it, the ability to deliver an in-person buying experience is the biggest area where Amazon will never be able to compete with traditional bookstores.

Another factor that I believe will be critical to B&N’s success is local community involvement. If B&N can create the perception of contributing to communities in a positive way, their chances of creating long-term success will be much greater than if they don’t. One thing for B&N to think about: how could they encourage groups of people to use their retail space for meetings and events that draw the right people into their store?

What do you think? Is the age of the bookstore over? Can B&N survive in the new climate under their existing business model? Can they adapt quickly enough? And will they?