Wednesday, July 20, 2011

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot!

By Joe Moore

It was announced on Monday that Borders abandoned its attempt to find a buyer and proceeded to declare bankruptcy. They’ll be closing 399 stores and letting 10,700 employees go. The national bookstore chain was the victim to overwhelming debt, losses and changing consumer tastes.

That last one, changing consumer tastes, to me is the real giant killer.

imageChanging consumer tastes translates to print sales tanking while ebook sales skyrocketing. Why? Features and benefits. Ebooks and the devices on which they can be read (including smartphones and tablets) contain more features and benefits than printed books. We’ve discuss that dead horse topic so much on this blog that the smell just won’t go away. But it’s true. Things aren’t just changing, they’ve already changed. The way we buy and read books will never revert to the olden days of just a year or two ago.

I liked Borders. I had a big, beautiful store a couple of miles from my house. I had to drive past a big, beautiful Barnes & Noble to get to Borders. My co-writer and I launched 4 novels from that store. The staff loved us and we loved them. They made us feel great. We sold a lot of books for them. As a matter of fact, we always sold out of their stock and had to give them cartons of books to finish the signing events. Saturday afternoon book launches at our local Borders were always fun.

So what happened to our big, beautiful Borders? They recently tore it down and put up a CVS Drugs. You can buy paperbacks inside if you want. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Borders, RIP.

14 comments:

  1. I liked Borders too, Joe. Had a great book signing/lecture event at one nearby. I liked the layout and selection of the stores. But this will be a textbook example for the Harvard Business School on what happens to a #2 or #3.

    Borders was a #2 vis a vis Barnes & Noble. And a #3 or maybe even #4 vis a vis e-readers (Kindle, Nook, Sony...Kobo).

    Anyway, a huge distribution channel for print books is gone, and that is another brick through the window of the traditional model. The effect will be known when the 2d and 3d quarter numbers come out. It's not going to be pretty.

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  2. While it's very hard to see bookstores closing, to me the impact on libraries is the worst. Our library's hours are so bad that unless you're unemployed, your only hope of getting to the library is sandwiching some time in on Saturdays amid the 4 million other errands you have to run on the off work day.

    I read more non-fic than fic, and read more for research than for pleasure--and for that, I need a library, which has the books I need, vs. the bookstore, which rarely does (they have no reason to carry a bunch of historical reference published in the 1950's).

    And if you need access to the rare books room of the library---that's virtually hopeless, especially since more and more employers are being nincompoops about letting employees flex hours to access libraries during their small windows of opportunity.

    So I mourn for the library, the bookstore. But even so, I do love my Kindle. Can't imagine how I survived without it prior to 2011. 8-)

    BK Jackson

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  3. Jim, it's already showing up for me. The most common thing I hear from my fans is, "we can't find your book." That's because they went to Borders. If they don't pay their bills, they don't get books.

    BK, I love libraries and bookstores, too. And I really love my Kindle. But there are a lot of folks out there that refuse to order anything online. So if the bookstores are dropping like flies and the libraries are limiting their hours with shrinking budgets, like Jim said, it's not going to be pretty.

    I hope you're not talking about you and me, Miller.

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  4. Joe, what you say about consumer tastes is true, but to be clear: Borders was in trouble for years, long before ebooks took off. They were saddled with many bad real estate deals, and a merry-go-round of executive changes and new management schemes that kept the chain in a constant state of uncertainty. Then added to that, they were very late into the ebook game (unlike B&N, who jumped in quickly and now has a very strong slice of the market), so they couldn't make up enough revenues from that end.

    So, though it's greatly tempting to some, I know, it's a vast oversimplification to just chalk up their failure to the "rise of the ebook" argument. Businesses fail for many reasons! We're going to miss them, though -- it's just sad.

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  5. Thanks for the additional input, Neil. It is sad. Whether readers frequent an indy or chain or bigbox store, losing an outlet for our books hurts all writers.

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  6. I saw a list of the large publishers taking a hit from this with their unsecured credit lines. Shocking. I was in the energy industry and our credit dept was constantly revising the status of companies with open credit to manage how we traded. We avoided the Enron failure as a result of their diligence. To have so many houses significantly hit by this also reflects on their business practices. I expect more fallout in terms of losses, stock down grades, and revised credit policies (if they're smart).

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  8. Neil's comment sheds a good bit of light on why Border's went under. Up here in Alaska book stores and library alike are usually very busy places, especially in winter. For stores to fail it is not usually for lack of business, but poor business management that swallows them up.

    That being said, I will still miss Border's locally. Not because I went there often myself, but because being very close to my home it was my kid's favorite place to study and buy books.

    Oh well, life goes on and fittest do tend to survive.

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  9. Although, the big pubs really stood in the way and dragged their feet as the BK trustees tried to find a buyer and a creative way to save the company. S&S and Random, the two biggest creditors cried "NO" and filed objections at every turn.

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  10. Thanks Jordan, Kathy, Basil and Terri for your comments.

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  11. Unfortunately you're right about the changing consumer tastes and I'm not helping what with my love affair with the Kindle but I too have a Barnes & Noble that I often spurned for the local Borders which shut down long before all the bankruptcy news broke. The B&N has survived and I wonder why B&N seems to have survived this change but not Borders. Or do you think they'll be next? I still enjoy taking my daughter to the B&N, we have great fun perusing children's books together (which just are not the same on a device).

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  12. Nobody ever talks about Books-A-Million but those stores are still around. Why aren't they in the news? They must be just as affected by changes in the pub industry as B&N and Borders.

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  13. Joe, I had to remove my previous comment because I was in error. Sue Grimshaw is with Ballentine, not Random House.

    Sheesh. Just the facts, Piks. That's all we're looking for! :)

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