The Death of Borders

23 Feb

Okay not a complete death, but they have declared bankruptcy and are closing stores across the country.

The announcement came last week.  I read about the rumors online two weeks ago.  I got an email from the CEO the day after the announcement.  I’ve read a lot of posts from other book bloggers in the last week.  But I haven’t really decided what I think about this until now.  Today I found an interesting article on TechCrunch that expressed a lot of my own ideas about this situation.

Books without Borders: A Victory for Amazon, But Also for Independent Book Stores by Paul Carr

Explaining the global fall of Borders – their UK arm collapsed last year – isn’t quite as simple as blaming Amazon and the rise of ebooks. But it mostly is. The company took a big gamble a decade or so ago in focusing on the notion of bricks-and-mortar book shopping as an “experience”. Stores were built with coffee shops and comfy chairs and warm little nooks in which people could hang out all day and read all the book and magazines they wanted. Unfortunately, after finishing their coffee and their free reading time, many of those people subsequently went home and took advantage of Amazon’s significant discounts to actually buy books. Only those few customers who demanded instant gratification needed to actually pay full price in store.

I admit, I am one of those people…

So, with Borders gone, Barnes and Noble struggling and independent stores still closing in their dozens, is this the beginning of the end for real world bookstores? Actually, I think probably not. In fact I suspect the death of Borders might actually cause something no-one in the book trade ever thought they’d see: a resurgence in independent book stores.

For a while, Borders – and the bigger (and for now more solvent) Barnes and Noble – represented a kind of mushy middle for bookselling. On one end of the spectrum sits Amazon – colossal of inventory, quick of delivery, soulless of personality. If you know exactly what book you want, Amazon is the place to buy it.

At the other end of the spectrum sit the independents – mom and pop stores and dusty used bookshops, staffed by knowledgeable bookworms eager to recommend something quirky (and possibly second hand) that they themselves have read, and think you might like. Borders plunked itself awkwardly in the middle, trying to out-stock the former (and failing) and to out-personality the latter (and failing). Even if Borders couldn’t replace the independent bookstore experience, the existence of a giant competitor in the their midst certainly hit mom and pop’s bottom line. No-one did well from the fight except for Amazon.

Now, with Borders out of the way, leaving absolutely no major chain book store in some markets (including San Francisco, which had three Borders but no Barnes and Noble), the independents have a real opportunity to push back.

Interesting option, let’s see what happens in the coming months.

Before the announcement: I shopped everywhere.  I frequented Borders and Barnes and Noble for their selection.  No one can be beat for browsing, getting ideas, and for the occasional awesome sale.  I frequented the chain used book store, Half Price Books, for selection (smaller than big boxes, but still pretty wide) and awesome clearance selection.  I frequented the local independent used book stores, Hyde Brothers and Village Books, for fun browsing and occasional awesome find.  And I frequented for the must-have new (or slightly used) books at a great price.  I shopped everywhere.  While I want to support the local stores, that cannot compete with the big boxes and online stores in terms of price and selection.  But I tried to visit them on occasion.  And I often found some great things while there.

After the announcement: My local Borders is not on the list of those closing.  We are the only Borders store within a 2 hour radius.  We currently have a Borders store and two Barnes and Noble stores.  So what does all this to me?  Will my shopping habits change?  Probably not.  I will still frequent Borders just as much as I did before.  I will frequent all the other places just as much as I did before.  The other thing I know I won’t be doing…. buying the $20 Borders rewards card.  Who knows what will happen in the next few months.  I don’t want to be caught holding someone I cannot use.

So sorry about the bankruptcy Borders, but times change, and I guess you couldn’t keep up.

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Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Books, Life


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