(This is an update from a Feb. blog when Borders entered Chapter 11)
It’s ironic that Borders Books, the book chain that played a huge part in putting thousands of smaller independent bookstores out of business with their superstore business model initiated in the 1980′s, is now going out of business. It is closing the last 399 locations of Borders Books and turning the inventory over to liquidators. While I lament the closing of any brick and mortar bookstore, you could see this one coming even if you weren’t an “expert” but just a lowly consumer.
Borders always seemed to lag a few steps behind-the-times. They didn’t catch on to the increasing rise in internet book buying or electronic book purchases until it was too late. They were still selling CD’s for $22 when people were downloading music for 99 cents on the Web.
In 2001 Borders contracted its e-commerce business out to a little company called Amazon.com. For Borders this was like a death sentence according to many economists. Amazon didn’t have the slightest interest in promoting Borders, it just wanted to be the king of online books. And of course, it took a while but it is. Borders got lost in the shuffle at Amazon and then places like Sam’s Club, Costco, WalMart and every Tom, Dick and Harry with shelf space started selling heavily discounted books.
Borders also wasted valuable years in progress and profit I feel, by hiring four CEO’s in five years that had no book sales experience what-so-ever. I found this astounding. I mean, I consider myself a true book-person. I read them, decorate with them, give them as gifts, collect them, store them etc. but I can’t imagine owning a bookstore large or small and not putting a smart business person with extensive book knowledge at the helm. This is what happens when someone with an MBA thinks they can sell widgets and books. People like this think product is product. But, they are so wrong. Book people are different. I might spend an hour in a bookstore picking out a book but I would spend one minute in a store picking out a widget (whatever that is).
Publishers will be the first to tell us that Americans are buying fewer books. Well, of course we are buying fewer books. The average new hardcover has a retail price of $28-$32. Mass market paperbacks are now hovering at $15 and up if you don’t get some kind of discount. People like “Snooki” from that stupid Jersey-whatever show are penning tomes, all the while thinking the word tome is a new kind of liquor. So, high prices and low quality content certainly has to play a role in declining book sales and not just because of the fact that people are spending more time on the internet and less time reading.
Going into a bookstore like Borders is like taking part in a “book experience.” It’s the bookstore smell, the coffee, the people, the staff and of course walls and walls of books. I know E-Readers and Kindles are hot items and Barnes and Noble claims their e-books now out-sell “real” books but the act of holding a book in your hand and visually looking at the jacket and the cover and reading the blurbs etc. is all part of the bibliophile experience. If a great book is considered a real “page-turner” some people feel you need actual pages not an electronic device. Hopefully when the big box bookstores are gone we will see the return of the smaller independent bookstores. One can only hope.
Not surprisingly, library usage is up nationwide. Of course, it is a sign of the economic times but I think it is a good thing. It gives us the opportunity to show younger readers that the internet is not literature, YouTube is not research and Twitter is not real writing.