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It's Official: Borders Long Goodbye Over

posted by John Pottow

They officially announced that with no-one showing up to the auction and with their stalking horse backing out (bucking them off?), they will acquiese to the "winning" bid of the liquidators.  Surely part of this sad fall -- sadder still for this poster from Ann Arbor -- comes from missteps that we can see in hindight failed to appreciate the profound transformations in this retail sector over the past decade plus.  But part of it too is an insurmountable change in retail trends fueled by the coming of age of online shopping.  Yes, Barnes and Noble survives for now, but will they still be a major bricks and morter presence a decade from now?  I have my doubts.  Sure, there will always be niche needs -- just as some travel agents persist in serving corporate clients -- so I don't see Aunt Agatha's Mystery Booksore in Ann Arbor going anywhere soon.  But the bread-and-butter, consumer travel agency around even still in the 1990s could serve as the example of what's to become the bricks and mortar mega-book store: a close chapter in the U.S. economy.


I've seen some comments that indicate it wasn't just changing markets that killed Borders. Apparently Borders moved purchasing up the line so that all stores (either nationwide or in a region, not sure which) sold the same stock. Managers didn't have the flexibility to stock a favorite local author, or order more of a book which sold out locally but wasn't moving nationally. I think these claims are accurate but can't be certain.

Online shopping has definitely hurt traditional booksellers and it's much easier (and often cheaper) to order a book online rather than go searching for it. However, the big retailers first expanded from books to music and video, and are now adding fancy stationary (at a time when few people write, do they actually sell any?). I wonder to what extent they've lost book customers because they're no longer bookstores.

Specialty bookstores will continue, and many will thrive. Unfortunately, a comment by Lawrence Block in one of his "burglar" mysteries applies here:

"How do you make a small fortune in the used book business?"

"Start with a large fortune."

(the quote may not be quite word for word).

I believe that the bookstore will disappear because the children of our days don`t read a book anymore, just TV, PC, iPad...

In our town, the Borders is flanked by several small niche book stores that all appear to be doing well. One focuses on children's books. The other is a used/overstock discount book store. Another is a comic book store. Another is a mystery/sci store. Specialty book stores will survive just as specialty record/music stores are as well.

With the advent of Kindles and Ipads, large book stores are dead men walking.

I don't know if the comment about Border's purchasing policy is true, but it certainly would not by atypical if it is. This is a common phenomenon among chains of any sort. In their early growth phase they hire good local managers and give them the authority to respond to local conditions. As the corporate arteries harden, the home office gradually takes this authority away. Home office weanies inevitably have examples of store managers whose decisions went bad (which is not necessarily the same thing as their being bad decisions, but from a distance it looks the same). They argue from this that store managers are not to be trusted. Since the store managers are in the stores rather than in meetings in the home office, they have no chance to argue their side. The inevitable result is a general goods store stocking lawn mowers in the barren desert (an actual example from my personal experience).

In a growing, or at least stable, sector this can merely be friction slowing corporate growth. I can see how in a sector like books this could put a chain under.

A bestselling author's comments on Borders. Matches what I've heard from others in the book industry: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/on-borders-closing/

As much as I want to be optimistic towards the future of bookstores, it's hard to imagine how traditional books can compete in the digital world. As if e-Book readers weren't popular enough, there is now the iPad.

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