Monday, September 12, 2011

Borders #1 Shuts Its Doors Today

I just read this story on  Looks like today is the day the first-ever Borders bookstore closes down for good. 

Talk about depressing.  I hate bookstore going out of business sales.  A few years ago, a Barnes & Noble near me closed down after being there ever since I lived in the area.  I ransacked it for Christmas presents, for random gift ideas, for books I *might* someday read.  I felt like someone trying to save irreplaceable treasures aboard a sinking ship or from a burning house before they were gone forever.  Silly of course, since everything you'd find there would be in stock online or in another big bookstore.

I had a similar experience a few years before that.  A famous Boston used book store, Victor Hugo's, closed its doors on Newbury Street.  I found a treasure trove of old pulpy novels, and I regret not buying some of the books I saw there but passed up.  Again, I felt like I was trying to salvage lost treasures before they disappeared forever.  Now I realize that any of those books I bought or didn't buy I can find for a song on Amazon's used book offerings.

E-books and Amazon's vast network of sellers and affiliates give a degree of availability to content like never before.  But there is something just plain wonderful about walking through a store filled with books, and people who love books.  Conversations, friendships, even love can be found there.  And nothing beats wandering the shelves of a well-stocked bookstore when you don't know what you want to read, and then coming across a new title that starts a lasting relationship with you, or you find a new work from an author you hadn't read in ages.  I can, and have, spent hours at a time in bookstores.  None of it is time I would ever consider wasted.

So while this is the painful part of progress, and eBooks and indie e-publishing is the wave of the future (and one I am taking advantage of, natch), it still makes me sad to see any bookstore close its doors, no matter how "big box" or commercial it might be.  Hopefully this environmental disaster, like the death of the dinosaurs, will bring about a flurry of bookstore evolution, as the indie brick & mortar stores reinvent themselves and continue to pull in new customers.


Anonymous said...

I, too, will certainly miss Borders.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to the close out sales!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, it's a sad phenomenon, and I already miss Borders, though I'd only buy books from them when they sent me one of their increasingly frequent 30-50% off coupons.

It's unclear to me though, how indy bookstores will compete and survive. I can't honestly believe that anyone will buy ebooks from them, and they can't beat Amazon and other online retailers on price. So what can they offer? Absolutely amazing customer service? Is that worth Amazon's standard 30% discount? (Actually it's more than that, because I always buy at least $25 from Amazon, so don't pay shipping or sales tax.) The one service they can offer is author signings, which are always lots of fun, and guarantee sales from me, but those happen pretty infrequently. Any other ideas on what indy bookstores can offer that, say, Amazon cannot? There's got to be *something.*

Jack Badelaire said...

I actually did several research assignments this past year for one of my graduate classes on this phenomenon.

I think one of the things an Indie bookstore may rely on is cheaper PoD book technologies. If a bookstore could receive an online order to print the book of your choice, and have it ready for pickup in 15-20 minutes, you could then stop in, grab it, and be home to read in no time.

This would appeal to the instant gratification of buying in person, plus the expanded inventory of buying an ebook online. It would eliminate the need for the inventory guessing game, and you could still stock popular paper books and "local writers" etc..

I also think a bookstore will have to evolve in its business model in terms of the services they offer. Signings, workshops, perhaps writing classes or ways to network indie authors and editors/cover artists. There's a book store in my area that has survived when B&N closed down years ago, and they still seem to be in good health. They also combine new books with a very nicely inventoried used book section - I foresee many indie bookstores surviving by shifting much of their inventory to OOP used books.

Still, we will have to see. Some indies will survive simply because the community they exist in wants them to. Others will find a gimmick and milk it for all it's worth. The rest will just fade away.

Anonymous said...

Great response, Jack, that's exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to see -- you should do a whole blog post on this topic.

The PoD angle is a very good one, and one that an indy bookstore I used to frequent in DC is taking advantage of. Politics & Prose is installing an Espresso Book Machine:

I've looked into this particular technology solution previously and while I find that the book selections and binding options are a little limited currently, I think it's a great model for the future.

David Couzins said...

A sad day...
David Couzins, author of "Domers"