Borders Deathwatch: Tick Tick Tick

The hits just keep on coming for poor Borders. I've been waiting to see the bookseller go under for ages, not with anticipation, but with dread.

We all know they are closing a zillion Waldenbooks, and while at first they intended to pulp the unsold books, apparently they are now donating them, so bravo there.

But now CEO Ron Marshall is leaving (to head up the A&P? really?) after only one year on the job. His chief merchandising officer is the interim CEO.

Meanwhile, Borders' holiday sales were dismal, even extending the definition of "holiday" from Nov. 1 to Jan. 16. Sales were nearly 15 percent below last year.

Worse, they have been accused of delaying payments to small publishers, because small press has more shallow pockets and doesn't have the wherewithal to sue the hell out of them like Random House or Harper Collins. I might point out they still owe me a check for a signing I did in 2008, so clearly something is wrong here.

This attitude toward small press doesn't surprise me: the reception I received with my first two books four years ago was a hell of a lot warmer than the chilly fill-out-this-application reception I got last year with my latest release. You used to be able to find small press in Borders. Now it's 900 copies of the same damn TWILIGHT book.

Let's not be coy: Borders is in serious trouble. Worse for the workers, since 10-15 percent will be laid off on Thursday.

Despite all this bad news, despite the shady desperate ploys and paperwork games, I will be very sad to see Borders go. Not just because they're the big bookstore about three minutes from my apartment - hey, we still have two independents here in town. Not because the books are so much cheaper than Buns & Noodle (two towns away) or Amazon.com (they're not).

It's because the original philosophy of Borders was to put a large general-interest bookstore in towns that didn't have them anymore. They put bookstores everywhere, even places where the people - by demographics - didn't read. It was a neat idea, that if you put ready access to books within a short drive of everyone, then everyone will read.

Unfortunately, as the public librarians of the world could have told them, it doesn't work. People need a reason to buy a book these days, when fiction of any kind can be beamed to their new device-of-choice in 30 seconds.

The publishing industry's woes didn't help. The economic free-fall didn't help. The general piss-poor state of retail didn't help. And their own management strategies didn't help.

I continue to root for Borders, and I hope this new guy has some magic wand that will save the chain. But I'm not looking to get my check in the mail anytime soon.

Comments

  1. Terrible. I live in a college town only served by one dismal Barnes and Noble, and always hoped Borders would come in. I like the fact Borders doesn't goad you into a frequent buyer program that makes you pay in 10 bucks.

    And oh, the magazines...so many beautiful magazines about airplanes and North Carolina and decrepit homes and overstuffed Food Netork hosts plugging fat laden sandwiches.

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  2. Around here it seems almost like a conspiracy against Borders to help Barnes & Noble... we had Waldenbooks in both malls, which turned into Borders Express shops after they decided to merge everything under one name... and at some point in the last year or so the management of both malls changed up - southern mall got bought out by a conglomerate, and I'm not sure what was up with northern mall... but both Borders Express shops went out of business, and Barnes & Nobles moved in... I was told by a manager I knew at the Borders at the southern mall - the new parent company of the mall had a contract agreement with Barnes & Noble and would not allow any other bookseller in... yikes!

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