Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Borders' Liquidation: What It Means To You

While pretty much everyone is shocked and dismayed by Borders' liquidation, I don't see anyone out there explaining to the general reader why this is going to have wide-ranging and long-standing repercussions for all of the book world, so I figured I'd give it a go.

As of last year, most publishers' sales went to Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Borders, probably in that order. If you walked into a B&N or Borders, you would see large stacks of bestselling books, on tables, in cardboard displays, or simply in piles on the floor. Now a huge percentage of those sales are gone. Now you might think "those sales aren't gone! They'll just move to B&N or the local independent bookstore." Well, maybe. Some certainly will. But not all. In some towns, there aren't other bookstores. B&N and Borders already ran the local independent under. Or else it's a town that was never big enough for more than one bookstore. The nearest bookstore now might be hours, and hundreds of miles away.

"But they can shop on Amazon!" you might cry. Sure, they might. Those sales won't have the same impact on the local community as Amazon employs no one in your town, and also doesn't pay sales tax (this subsidy, allowing Amazon to undercut all bricks and mortar stores at the expense of our roads and schools, has long been part of the problem, but that's a rant for another day.) But some people won't. Some people might not have computers (strange, but true!) Others don't like shopping online because of the identity theft danger. Still others will shop online, but will only buy the book they're looking for, and not the cool book they walk by on their way to the cash register, further reducing overall book sales.

So this loss of a book outlet means drastically lower initial shipments of books from publishers. (Yes, those all wouldn't sell but there is a secondary market for remainders which will also be hurt.) Which means smaller print runs. Which means higher printing costs for publishers. Which means thinner margins. And therefore less money to buy books and pay for advances. And so, fewer books will be published. Without Borders, there will be fewer places to promote titles, fewer places readers might see books, one less bestseller list to brag about and try to get publicity with, thousands fewer locations for authors to arrange signings to promote books, one less web page for promotions, and so on.

I'll admit, Borders was never my favorite bookstore. I try to shop independent whenever I can but when I can't, B&N has always been my go-to. But I am going to miss Borders. As will all of you. The ramifications of this bankruptcy will be reverberating for a decade or more, and it won't end well. So for the next ten years, when you hear complaints from authors of low print runs, low advances, fewer publisher acquisitions, and when you readers complain about less selection and variety, remember this is where it all began. The next few years will be ugly, but if we hang in there, we'll get through it together.


Julie @ Read Handed said...

Fantastic post. Thank you for clarifying the situation and pointing out the ramifications of this bankruptcy. The nearest Borders to me is 100 miles away, so I wasn't too concerned about this news, but now I can see why I should be. Thanks.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Sigh. Now I'm really going to miss the Borders in Stonecrest.

Amy said...

This is a fantastic post. I haven't seen anyone point out the ramifications in such an easy-to-understand way. Thanks!

B said...

Carin, You broke this down in a very clear way. Thanks for helping me to understand the issue a little better.

Jillian said...

I like to support independent bookstores, but any bookstore closing is sad and heart breaking. I will miss Borders :(

Cath said...

I will miss Borders, even though its not cool! They were the only coffee house type place in my neighborhood. They had a lot of programs for kids, too...nice, air conditioned story times. Oh, well!

I did hear on the radio today that this could end up helping independent bookstores, so I guess some good might come from it.

Carin Siegfried said...

@Constance Reader, I too hope it helps indies, but I heard that in the short-term, the liquidation could hurt them (and B&N) as all book buyers flock to the GOOB sales and spend all their book money there for the next 2 months or so. Ugh!