Is Borders Closing Shop for Good?

The media outlets (social or otherwise) have been going non-stop for the past couple of days, ever since the book seller first announced  it was going into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization (Borders Group Files for Reorganization Relief Under Chapter 11 [PDF]).

The New York Times headline today (Borders’ Bankruptcy Shakes Industry) was a little alarmist, at best, but very representative of online commentary. They did mention that the “40-year-old retail chain…helped define the age of the book superstore,” and ominously adds that ever since the announcement, “the struggling book industry was left wondering what was next — and maybe even who was next.” Is it really this bad?

An analyst with Standard & Poor’s says that this is a market where significant transformation has taken place in recent years, and bookstores have gradually been loosing prominence as a whole. The analyst predicts this is a growing trend as eBooks are becoming ubiquitous.

Not only is this a volatile industry per se (changing trends, eBooks, etc.), but the bookstore market is very saturated.  The NY Times article mentions that Borders is probably finally suffering the results of a number of missteps along the way–one of which was over-expansion.

As Borders began to wildly expand and taking over mom-and-pop shops throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, its image as “the brainier of the large chains” gradually decreased. Now that they’re in Bankruptcy, one hopes they are able to recalibrate and emerge, not unlike a Phoenix, from a particularly nasty ashy tumble.

The NY Times article goes on to share that: “[p]ublishers, mourning the loss of valuable shelf space, said they hoped the bankruptcy filing would be a chance for the bookseller to reinvent itself. But they were also skeptical that the company’s deep-rooted problems could be overcome.”

Strong pressures from lower-priced online providers as well as a more successful (and substantial) online presence by Barnes & Noble, are being named as the main indicators behind the final blow for Borders.

Groups like IndieBound might be secretly pumping their firsts in the air in victory, after struggling for years to develop their unique niche against big-box book sellers.

The IndieBound front page announces in bold, colorful letters a collaboration with Google (Independent Bookstores Selling Google eBooks). Their avoidance of the Borders newsbyte is almost a dismissive wave of the hand to the old, as they open their arms to usher in the new.

The American Booksellers Association, which hosts IndieBound, had a prominent note (ABA Statement on Borders’ Bankruptcy Filing) on the front page of their website, describing their reaction to the news. The ABA’s statement begins: “[t]hough Borders is not a member of the American Booksellers Association, we are always saddened when any bookstore closes.”

The statement continues to say, “[h]owever, despite the doom and gloom expressed by some about the future of full-service bricks-and-mortar bookstores – and, while we don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead – ABA believes that the indie bookstore model is well positioned for the future.” You can almost hear snickering in the background: so there, evil big-box booksellers! Your comeuppance at last.

What does this mean for writers and publishers? It means we first of all shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket, and secondly, local writers can find better success and acclaim with local bookstores, and build on that to go national. Local bookstore patrons usually love to hear about local writers, because the writing will undoubtedly strike a familiar chord with the audience.

Are we becoming writing localvores? Why not give it a try. I know I always prefer to shop at independent stores whenever I have the option to. Their unique personality and offerings shine far brighter in my eyes than the standardization and aloofness of big-box shops. Best of all, the funds I spend stay in my local area to continue a positive circle of giving and supporting efforts that count in my community. If that’s not a way to let our money speak for ourselves, I don’t know what is.

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4 responses to “Is Borders Closing Shop for Good?

  1. They’ve been hampered by gross mismanagement at the executive level over the past 10-15 years or so. They’ve had execs who had no experience in the book industry (favoring execs pulled from clothing retail or grocery industries)… On top of that they had Amazon running their online bookstore in the early 2000s– thus giving Amazon.com customer records and buying habits. The article I read likened it to Coca-Cola asking Pepsi to be their distributor.

    I have a nephew who works for Borders. His store wasn’t on the list of closures and I’ve heard that his store (Fredericksburg, VA)is one of the more successful ones. I also believe there’s a lack of competition in that area. I don’t think there’s a B&N nearby to draw customers away which has probably helped that location remain a bit more solvent and successful than many of the other Borders locations.

    • If businesses weren’t so nepotist and favoritism-oriented, they would go get the best talent and things wouldn’t turn out so dismally. Having said that, I always wondered why on earth they would have Amazon lead their online presence. That’s like paying rent for your store to your competitor–the conflict of interest and information Amazon had access to probably lead to a lot of stolen customers, I’m sure. I never really figured out Borders loyalty program anyway, no matter how much I spent I only got a pittance off purchases at the end of the year. We will have to see if they reorganize and pull out in one piece. Glad to hear about your nephew, that’s a fortunate store indeed where they have no real competition. I’m sure there’s several ones in a similar position–I think of the one in Kona Hawaii which its only competition back in ’99 was a super center Walmart next door.

  2. There’s one up by where my parents live that’s staying in business as well. I think it’s another case where lack of competition has allowed it to thrive.

    I used to love their music selection. It was often second only to Virgin Records for the breadth and depth of material they had. They often had stuff I really couldn’t find anywhere else (except for Virgin Records of course).

    But with music going digital as much as it has and CD sales plummeting they’ve largely pulled out of the CD market. I can’t say I blame them but I do miss it.

    • I looked up locations on the Borders website, and it looks like the Naperville, Wheaton, and Oakbrook stores are staying open. My old haunt in Davenport IA is also staying open. I think you’re right about the digital music affecting their music sales and also having an all-around impact on their well-being. They were one of the first retailers to have scan and listen stations to test out CDs before buying.

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