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Friday, February 18, 2011

A Few Thoughts on the Borders Bankruptcy

As I'm sure you've heard, Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week. If you didn't know any better, you'd probably nod smartly to yourself, and just assume the bankruptcy is merely a casualty  of the tough times for the entire publishing industry. (According to Publisher's Weekly, bookstore sales were down 1.4 percent in 2010.)

But this NY Times article provides some great analysis on what really led to Borders' collapse. And it's kind of infuriating, in that strange way you can be infuriated about something you didn't care about much until you found out there was blatant stupidity involved.  They had no cohesive e-book strategy when even your 80-year-old grandmother could tell how hot the e-book trend would be? They didn't have their own e-commerce site until 2008? (seriously?!) And now they're stiffing publishers on books shipped during the holiday season. As David Foster Wallace would say, what a f$#@ing mess. Frankly, it's amazing they lasted as long as they did. What's particularly interesting about the supposed-to-be-objective NY Times article is its tone: almost an exasperated frustration, no doubt mirroring the sentiments of many Borders employees, customers, publishers and creditors.

So the company will continue to do business, but will close about 200 of its about 650 bookstores  (here's the list of closures, many of which are having liquidation sales this weekend, if you're interested in some cheap books), including several here in the Chicago area. As mostly a B&N and independent bookstore man myself, I didn't really follow the story at all until the actual announcement earlier this week. But now I learn that the store near me that hosted some great author events (including Joshua Ferris and Jonathan Tropper) is on the chopping block. That makes me sad.

I suppose that if there's anything positive to come from this, it's that it will serve as a cautionary tale on how not to run a book business. In addition, maybe independent bookstores operating in the same neighborhoods as closed Borders stores will see better sales. (The NY Times piece points out that Borders' overexpansion in the 1980s and '90s killed many independent bookstores. Talk about a long overdue comeuppance!) Maybe this will be a signal to other booksellers to circle the wagons and get creative about how to stay afloat. And, a final positive is this tweet from Jimmy Fallon: "Borders filed for bankruptcy & will close 200 stores. When Sarah Palin heard, she was like 'Finally, we’re closing the borders!'"

What do you think? Sad/angry/frustrated about Borders' bankruptcy? Don't care? Think the company will eventually bounce back?

14 comments:

  1. I've been following this story for awhile(the folks at Galleycat have been keeping abreast of it)and it is sad,especially for the booksellers out of work in this tough economy.

    There used to be a Borders in my neck of the woods-had to take a really long bus ride to reach it-that closed down a couple of years ago. B&N has it's merits but Borders had a stronger selection in terms of books.

    They were too little,too late with their web presence and e-book readers,something that I think many indies are doing their best to catch up on and the over expansion(which also involved buying up the Waldenbooks chain,if I recall correctly)element did them no favors. Powell's Books,a well known indie chain,has had to close a few of their locations recently which proves that bigger is not always better.

    Between this and the dwindling of funds for libraries across the nation,our book times are being tested mightily. I believe in the power of the written word and hope for the best to come but can't help but be on the lookout for more trouble spots along the way.

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  2. I've got to say I'm leaning toward happy on the Boarders bankruptcy subject. Here's what: If I'm going to go to a big chain bookstore, it's going to be B&N, and I rarely visit there. I am definitely an independent or used bookstore shopper, and if closing 200 Borders means the indies and the used can profit, I'm all for it.

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  3. Greg, what's so hard to understand?

    The long term welfare of the business did not comply with corporate America's culture of "profits for next quarter and damn the consequences".

    Also, the NYT are giving this whole "interwebs" experiment too much credit, I mean really...shopping on a computer?
    What's next, reading a book on a computer?

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  4. @lady t - You're right, I hope this isn't just the first major salvo in the slow, inevitable decline of the entire written word industry. But I don't believe that to be true.

    @Brenna - Certainly agree with you there. There is a really awesome independent bookstore right down the street from the Borders that's closing near me - and I'm hoping they'll see a sudden influx in customers.

    @Man - Well, I didn't say the situation is hard to understand - in fact, as I said, the only thing hard to understand is how it took this long. Your last paragraph made me laugh - well said!

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  5. I can't really decide how I feel about this. On the one hand I'm hoping independent bookstores see an influx of customers but I liked Borders. I went to them more than B&N for awhile, solely because of proximity to my office.

    I agree with your frustration that their financial woes could have least been helped if they had the foresight to see that these computer dealys were going to be a pretty popular thing. I still can't believe how long it took them to start selling books online.

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  6. I'm only upset because I know how many people this will put out of work, in tough times and places; for instance, they're closing the store in DeKalb, IL - which is a college town, home of NIU. It's nearly impossible to find a job in that town, so to put all those people out of work and to not have that employer available for incoming classes... ouch.

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  7. I wish I could say something intelligent, but I am laughing too hard about the Palin joke....

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  8. A few years ago, I tried for a job at Borders near me here in Australia and I had it - almost. They loved it that I was right into reading, had a large and varied book collection, was a manager of a book review blog and am a Bookcrosser. However the one thing they didn't like about me was that I couldn't work a cash register and didn't have a clue about money or mathematics; yet they had a guy on the floor who didn't know a single thing about authors, how the shop ran, how to look anything up on the computers, the internet or where to find a book in another store nearby. He had a severe disability and they had excused him from the registers because he wasn't good at them... yet expected me to be on them.

    If they could be this picky here when I knew the American stores weren't doing so well then, it made me wonder why they even thought to put on a person who needed to be told how to do things when I could have done all the stuff the was doing with the smallest bit of training.

    And another question is: once Borders in America close, are the ones here in Australia to follow?

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  9. Honestly, I've never been a fan of Borders, so I'm not too disappointed or frankly surprised. Our largest Borders closed about two years ago, quite suddenly in fact. It was open one week and closed the next. I learned later, when it was too late, that there was a liquidation sale, but it was a definite sign of troubles with such a large store closing out of the blue like that. Hopefully, other stores will learn from Borders' mistakes.

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  10. So far as I can tell, this closure is only happening in the States so my beloved Borders in NZ will remain open. Which actually doesn't really mater anymore now I don't live there but you know. It's nice to know it'll be there when I go back.

    I have kind of mixed feelings about it all to be honest. The combo of their causing the death of loads of indie stores PLUS the stupidity that caused their downfall makes me less sympathetic. But then I do love Borders. Many happy afternoons have been spent in Borders.

    Thanks for the post and links.

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  11. Personally, I am very sad about the whole Borders fiasco, for purely selfish reasons. I will no longer have any bookstores around me. I have to drive an hour to get to the nearest one. It almost feels like I'm living in anti-book city/world and this actually really scares me! LOL. I have also had a lot great memories here, as I have treated this as my place to go to when I need to unwind and relax after a hard day or something.

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  12. My Borders in Matteson is one of the ones on the chopping block. That makes the only bookstore within a reasonable distance a Barnes and Noble about 35 minutes away in Orland Park (which requires driving down Lagrange, which is a whole 'nother topic). Anyhoo, other than the libraries the only places to get books will be Target and WalMart. I wish that we had any independent bookstores where I love, but there aren't any. Luckily I do get most of my books these days from Bookswap on Goodreads, but it's a shame to lose the one reading related joint in town.

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  13. As there isn't a Borders in my area, I can't say I'm too sad. I really am hoping that it does give the Indie Bookstores a push though. I read of Indies planning to close in shelf awareness every week and that saddens me more than seeing a chain store like Borders go down.

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  14. I loved Stephen Colbert's tweet before the announcement was officially made:

    Border's may file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. No surprise. They've been foreshadowing it since Chapter 3.

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