Saturday, February 19, 2011

Without Borders

Just in case you tuned in earlier and saw this post appear and disappear on Friday, we had a PICNIC (Problem In Chair Not In Computer) incident where this offering was posted prematurely. Sorry about the confusion, for which I am totally responsible.

I have been watching the slow motion train wreck, otherwise known as the Borders bankruptcy, for over a year now, knowing that it was coming but hoping that it would not. It came this week and it is, not to mince words, a disaster, at least for the short term.

I am aware that the wiser among us say that other bookstores in the areas of the shuttered Borders will pick up the slack, and no doubt they will, to a greater and lesser extent. My immediate concern is for the good folks who worked at the closed stores, and who now join the ever-growing number of people looking for employment. Of longer range concern, however, is the amount of debt owed to publishers large and small, and by extension to authors. I have no idea whether the parent companies of the publishing houses that we deal with are large enough to absorb some of the losses I am hearing about, or even if they are inclined to do so. What I am worried about in the intermediate term, however, is the future of the printed, bound book. I thoroughly enjoy my Kindle, and I have managed to own it for almost one year without breaking it. But I haven’t given up books. I’m kind of like the guy in the (more-or-less) committed relationship who also has a friendship with privileges, and who isn’t sure who fills which need. I really don’t want to have to make the decision any time soon. But the Borders situation creates a giant bump in the road of physical commerce. There are a number of questions hanging out there. Will publishers ship new product to the remaining Borders stores? What happens to physical product in warehouses? Or to product remaining in the closed stores after this weekend’s G.O.B. sales in the stores which are closing? Someone will answer all of these questions fairly quickly, but the shift is going to be a pain in someone’s rear end. In any event, I am sure that someone in an office in midtown Manhattan has floated the idea to their underlings that if all books were e-books, no one would have to worry about all of this. The book isn’t printed and delivered until it’s ordered and paid for, so no inventory. Great, right?

Sure. In some ways. But I don’t think most of us are ready to give up books or the stores where we buy them. Which is why I am asking you to join me, and to ask others to join you, in a demonstration of faith: buy a new book, a physical book, from a brick and mortar establishment dedicated to that purpose, each month for the next twelve months. Many of us already do this, but many of us use libraries, and many of us borrow from friends. Nothing wrong with that, and bless you for reading. But I am asking you to move the budget around a bit, bite the bullet, and buy a book. At worst you’ll have several Christmas gifts to give by the time December comes. I am going to visit the wonderful and indispensable Foul Play Books in Westerville, Ohio for this month’s purchase, and maybe for all of the rest of them each month as well. If you like the bigger stores, go for it. If enough of us do this, the publishers may decide that its worth it to stay in the game, even if they have to move that god-awful inventory around. But please do it. Let’s counter that ripple effect, before someone gets a not-so-bright idea.


A get well soon to John Miller, whose operation on his hand is not preventing him from writing.


  1. I feel your pain and I do believe someone will at least partially pick up the slack. Because I love books too. I often frequent Borders, if for nothing else to just browse, and I meet with a fiction writers group in another. With that said, Borders would put any ma and pa store out of business the first chance they got, so I feel nothing for them, absolutely nothing. As far as the publishers losing all that money, I simply don't care. Not my money, and, from what I can tell, my writing doesn't fit their criteria for something to invest in. Ultimately it's better for books if Borders isn't bankrupt. Too bad. If physical books that are in book stores are so much better than books in a library or a grocery store or in a walmart or target or any other store as such, or an ebook for that matter, than they'll succeed and exceed all expectations within the free market. Long story short. A bad business model is a bad business model. And I purchased fresh kills on the kindle. Pretty good, I must say.

  2. I have only just started reading eBooks. Up until Christmas I had nothing to read them on and my choice of book was a paperback. i hate hardcovers. Too big and cumbersome, particularly when lying in bed.

    At Christmas I became the proud owner of an IPad. I tried reading a book on it and couldn't quite get comfortable with the experience, but I loved how easy it was to download the books. I looked, browsed and then it was there. So I persevered. This week I am on my third ebook and I am really getting on with it now. I will still buy and read physical books but I will also find myself browsing and picking books up in the e-format.

    I don't think this means that there will be no need for the physical book. There are many people out there who aren't technologically minded (My other half struggles just to switch the computer on!) and there are people who just don't have the funds for such technology. I think it's just a world where people are going to have choice. We are still going to be reading, but we can choose the how and where.

  3. Whenever I buy a book as a gift, I buy it from an independent bookstore--I do usually order it from them online, because I'm too lazy to go to the store. But they still get the business. They can deliver books, just like Amazon does.

  4. I love supporting the indies. I love going to book signings for authors I know and buying their new book at full price at such stores. We all realize, sadly, this is going to be happening less and less. The closing of Mystery Bookstore here in L.A. was a letter opener to the heart.

    I am quite concerned about the downstream effects of Borders in Chapter 11. Their debt is major, earth-opening-up-beneath type stuff.

  5. I got the bankruptcy email a few days ago, and this morning woke up to the notification that my local Borders was closing.

    Even the huge 2-story Borders on the Phoenix/Camelback corridor is getting the axe. I was more surprised by that one--thought it, of all locations, would survive. Used to be you could have a good meal at The Cheesecake Factory and then step over a few feet to the big Borders and shop. Not any more! I've gone to some good book signings at that store.

    The fact that the Borders closest to me is closing is no surprise. It was looking rather pathetic the last few times I was there. And in addition to Borders own woes, that store is located in an area that is suffering in general because of changes in demographics and neighborhoods. That whole area looks a lot like a deserted wasteland.

  6. I've seen lots of comments (as in "good riddance" as stated on one blog), almost cheering the demise of Borders, this interlaced with comments bordering on hope that publishers will fail next. That's pretty sad.

    The impact of this is going to be devastating for a lot of decent people & their families - for many more than just those employed directly by Borders.

    I like independent bookstores, ebooks, etc, but the collapse of any business is not something to be applauded or wished for.

  7. The big box stores killed the beloved indies, now the Internet and eBook store, Amazon, seems to be killing them off. Survival of the smartest, the innovators. Evolution takes no prisoners. This week I bought two books for my KINDLE. But I will buy a real paper book this week.

  8. I love bookstores. I love walking into them and browsing while I immerse myself in the certain vibe they give off that often inspires my writing. That being said, I also liked going into record stores and looking at the backs of albums and opening CD cases to read the song lyrics once I got them home.

    For years industries have had to change to keep up with technology. Sadly, the publishing industry kept its head in the sand for far too long and we're beginning to see the results. I applaud Amazon for having the foresight to introduce the Kindle and change the way people read. The younger generation (as big as the baby boomer generation, by the way) want things instantly, easily, and with a technological edge to them. They have no interest in keepsakes and are often on to the next thing in no time. They're not going to fill bookshelves in their homes with what they've read just like they're not going to stack CDs next to the stereo (Dad, what a stereo?).

    I love real books and I love displaying them on my antique bookshelf, but things change. We can't be my grandfather arguing with the hot dog man about how hot dogs used to cost ten cents. The publishing industry has to change to keep the younger generations interested in stories when there is so much else out there to distract them. If that means 95% digital books and 5% paperbacks (hardcovers no longer make economic sense) then so be it. They need a new marketing plan too. Books need to be marketed for the 21st Century.

  9. Last night I went to a book signing at an indie for a friend of mine. It felt good to buy a book at retail to help both the author and the store. But like Miller said,evolution takes no prisoners. I still love my Kindle and have bought more books since I got it for Christmas than all of last year.

  10. Our Borders isn't set to close -- yet. But shopping there lately is like a one family garage sale in a football stadium.
    If ours closes (and I'm pretty sure it will) there will be that many more people unemployed in an area where we are still at 12% without jobs.
    I guess what goes around comes around.

  11. History waits for no one.

    Years ago I had a small computer store, built my own line of PCs and dreamed of competing with Dell and Gateway and was actually headed up relatively fast. Then Price Club and K-Mart started selling PCs. Drove every little shop like mine out of business within two years.

    Now, at least for ebooks, the digital retail world is doing the same thing to the big boxes.

    Time changes.

    My fear is that one day in the distant future we begin to rely on digital technology then suddenly one day POOF an electromagnetic pulse from the sun...or a bomb...destroys everything electronic and the memory of an entire generation is wiped out.

    hrm...maybe I should make a twilight zone episode about this...