The Borders Group bookstore chain is showing every sign of going down. Forgive me, but I’m going to do a little gloat ... there, that was fun.
I don’t want 19,000 international booksellers to lose their jobs, I don’t want publishers and authors to go unpaid. It’s not good for anyone if miles of bookshelves disappear.
But hey, many of us involved in grassroots bookselling and publishing long ago noted the era of Super Stores could not possibly go on forever. It’s been suspected for a while that Borders was the weakest of the beasts.
As the New York Times put it plainly, “Borders, which has suffered from losses in revenue for years... reported dismal third-quarter earnings in December.”
There is a long-standing American trend toward massive consolidation. See: Standard Oil and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company for classic examples; Starbucks for a more recent one.
One day in 1971 Tom and Louis Borders opened a small bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and began to expand.
The consolidation went like this: Kmart Corporation purchased Waldenbooks, a bookstore chain. Waldenbooks purchased Brentano's, another chain of bookstores. In 1992 Kmart acquired all the Borders stores and expansion really took off, often at the not accidental expense of smaller, non-chain bookstores. Borders (or Barnes & Noble) is opening a big new store across the street or down the block, and you’ll just have to pack up and leave, buddy.
This process made a lot of money for a few people, and hurt many other people in the process. Years ago, traveling to Kauai, Hawaii, we discovered the small bookstore we liked was gone. To this day there are no independent bookstores on Kauai and most other Hawaiian islands. At one end of Kauai you can shop for new books at Borders; at the other end, Barnes & Noble. With minor nods to local authors, the stock of both is essentially identical.
1-7-2011 CORRECTION -- Thanks to a reader who just returned from Kauai and noted there is an excellent independent bookstore in the island -- Talk Story in Hanapepe and I am so chagrined I missed it! And so happy it's there.
Borders and Barnes & Noble can be viewed as dinosaurs raining blows on each other. Down here where people actually live and shop – in the ever-evolving land of independent bookstores, if you will – we hardly hear those dinosaur battles.
Barnes & Noble sells a B&N-branded E book reader, the Nook Color. Borders doesn’t have one of their own. This has hurt Borders, although they are pushing hard to sell The Franklin AnyBook Pro Reader, Sony Daily Edition and Touch Edition and Pocket Edition, the Kobo, the Cruz, the Libre.
Independent bookstores don’t have store-branded E readers, and yet most are doing well selling electronic editions through the newly developed Google Books webstore.
The business press so far has concluded that Borders is headed for restructuring now and bankruptcy later. They’ve tried to renegotiate payment deals with major publishers, but the publishers don’t like the offer.
Borders may be down and Barnes & Noble up, and who cares? You, good listeners and readers, shop locally. You believe the 3/50 Project – people working together to shop locally and spread the word about it -- is a fine thing, and you’re right.
Good for all of us intelligent mammals. We are evolving, yet we will cling to paper-based books as long as we can. We will read electronically too, why not? But mainly paper. May all the little people live long and prosper.
Borders’ own history lesson
The Wikipedia version
“The 3/50 Project supports independent, locally owned businesses by inspiring consumer loyalty to the storefronts that directly fund their communities. Think of three businesses you'd miss if they went away. Stop in. Say hello. Pick up a little something that makes you smile. That's what keeps them around, after all. Pick 3. Spend 50. Save your local economy.”