Barnes & Noble Founder Retires, Leaving His Imprint On Bookstore's History As Founder and Chairman of Barnes & Noble, Leonard Riggio steered it through the proliferation of free information in the Internet age. As he retires, he tells NPR's Lynn Neary about his long career.
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Barnes & Noble Founder Retires, Leaving His Imprint On Bookstore's History

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Barnes & Noble Founder Retires, Leaving His Imprint On Bookstore's History

Barnes & Noble Founder Retires, Leaving His Imprint On Bookstore's History

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LYNN NEARY, HOST:

Leonard Riggio is retiring come September. The founder and chairman of Barnes & Noble has been in the bookselling business for more than 50 years, since well before the internet came along and changed everything. He's watched his industry wrestle with digital publishing and the popularity of e-books, the rise of Amazon. And it was Riggio and his Barnes & Noble, alongside rival Borders, who gave America the big-box bookstore, a response, he says, to elitist booksellers and cramped, unwelcoming stores.

LEONARD RIGGIO: Very intimidating, not welcoming at all. And I thought, why so? So the stores that we began designing and began operating were meant to be public spaces. And the public meant bookstores for everyone. We were the first retailer in America, Barnes & Noble was, to have the superstore of any kind, first retailer in America to have public restrooms, first retailer in America to open - major retailer to open Sundays.

NEARY: Yet these big superstores also had its critics. I mean, they were sometimes presented as villains who were putting smaller stores out of business.

RIGGIO: Sure, sure.

NEARY: That was the - you know, that was the famous name at the moment.

RIGGIO: Yeah, you know, there was a lot of that. From our point of view, what we were looking to do was to serve and engage readers. And it was not our intention to look in the window of another bookstore that might be five miles away. And some of the press like to say we opened up in order to put these people out of business, which I thought was ridiculous. But we kind of ignored it and just moved on.

NEARY: Jumping forward a few years, the digital book revolution changed things tremendously. And at one point, Barnes & Noble put a lot of energy into its own Nook e-reader...

RIGGIO: Yes.

NEARY: ...Thinking it would really kind of be its salvation heading towards the future. But it didn't really work out that way. You know, could it be that the future of books really is going to be good old-fashioned print?

RIGGIO: There are components of the printed book business that remain sentimental, endearing, even practical. So I don't think the book business will go away. But I think that the digital business and all things digital will continue to grow at a much faster rate.

NEARY: We haven't talked about the real elephant in the bookstore business, and that's Amazon, the online giant. How do you think, looking towards the future, how do you think all brick-and-mortar stores are going to fair?

RIGGIO: It was not Amazon's delivery of books that changed things as much as it was the Internet itself because the things that people would have to find in books were now available online and free. And in fact, even today, authors that I speak to do more of their research online than they do in libraries. So I think that technology component had more to do with the suppression of bookstore sales than Amazon did.

NEARY: Leonard Riggio is founder and chairman of Barnes & Noble. Thanks so much for speaking with us today.

RIGGIO: OK, thank you.

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