Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In Memoriam: Borders Bookstore

Another one bites the dust. But, not just "another one," one of the mainstays of the book beat. Bookstores have always come and gone. In the past, however, their coming and going was based on vertical integration. Big fish ate the little fish and became bigger fish. Borders Bookstore used to be a big fish, now it is liquidating 400 stores and 11,000 jobs. Beyond jobs, there could be ramifications for the paperback, as Borders was known as a retailer that took special care to promote paperback sales. It's efforts in this regard could push a paperback into bestseller status. So, this liquidation has a massive human cost, and quite literally a price will be paid in paperback sales and availability.

Bibliophiles like me shed a tear for such a passing as this, but in all honesty I have to say I can't remember the last time I was even in a Borders, or a Barns & Noble, or any brick and mortar bookstore! I shop at the biggest bookstore in the world: Amazon.com. So, am I one of those pricks responsible for the death of the bookstore? I suppose. I take responsibility for giving in to the ease and elegance of online shopping. But, can you blame me? Every time I call up a brick and mortar bookstore—support them, to shop them, to use them—I ask for a book and invariably the response is, "We don't have that title in store, sir, but I can order it for you and it will take a couple of days to get here." Ugh! Unless I am looking for something off the New York Times Best Seller list; or a graphic novel; or some hot-off-the-press, flavor-of-the-month, how-to book chances are the store won't have it in stock. So, if I want my book quickly the only solution is Amazon. Does that make me a bad person? Some say yes.

Get a grip, people. Bookstores will not disappear. The passing of the large chains only brings us back full-circle to the good ol' days when boutique stores supplied niche audiences with all manner of books unavailable at major chains. Small bookstores are actually on the rise again, as they fill in the gaps left by chain store closures. The hype about the death of the book (and the bookstore) are greatly exaggerated, in my opinion. Books will never go away and neither will bookstores. We may find them harder to find, but every community will have them, rest assured. I am much more concerned about the 11,000 people who will lose their jobs with the Borders liquidation. And don't even get me going about the future of libraries. That's very scary and worth of a separate post.

In short, RIP Borders. It was nice knowing you. I weep for your employees and your stockholders who will eat their shorts. But, in the grand scheme this is part of the evolution of the species and will be good for the independent bookstore ecology and community bookstores. As for me, I will still be going to the biggest bookstore in the world and my guilt at participating in the death of the book will have to fester deeply inside me in silence.

I am still a good person.

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