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Wednesday, February 16th 2011

10:07 AM

RIP Borders

Today was the day we've been waiting for with horror and frustration. Borders, America's second largest chain bookseller (behind Barnes and Noble) has declared bankruptcy. They'll continue to operate under Chapter 11 (a part of the bankruptcy law that allows corporate reorganization) but are shedding hundreds of their stores, including the stores nearest to me. They're also leaving a number of publishers in the lurch as publishers ship books to Borders (and other retailers) on order rather than waiting for checks to clear.

Borders was an early leader in the movement from tiny cramped bookstores to expansive stores with comfortable couches to sit and browse, including coffee shops to sip and linger. It's a wonderful model--for people who love books like I do, who love to see what's new and read a few pages before we actually buy the book. Borders was also among the more friendly retailers for romance which is one of the genres that I read, write and publish. I can't count the number of booksignings I've attended at local Borders.

Some will say that eBooks killed Borders and there's a certain element of truth there. At their start, Borders was a technology leader but they fell behind in the 1990s and never really caught up. Their eBook efforts always seemed half-hearted--as if they didn't really believe in eBooks and wished they'd go away. Barnes and Noble, in contrast, has tried to create a model where eBooks and bookstores co-exist. Walk into a B&N with your Nook and you can sit down and read eBooks, just as you can sit down and read books. You can browse the bookshelves and, if you see something that looks good, buy it on your Nook right there. Still, there would probably be more truth to the thought that Wal-Mart killed Borders. By cream-skimming the best-sellers, Wal-Mart leaves Borders and other pure booksellers with the lower volume, higher cost books to sell. It's a sensible business decision for Wal-Mart, but poison for Borders.

A bookstore is a destination, a resting point, a magnet, and an encouragement to writers. Bookstores have also been wonderful (although low-paying) employment opportunities for writers and booklovers (and future agents and publicists).  I'm sad that our local Borders are no more--just as most of our local independents are no more. The gap they leave for the city, and the literary world, will be hard to fill. Borders is likely to come out of bankruptcy at some point but I doubt it will ever be the same.

So, Borders wasn't my favorite store and their upper management did much of the damage to themselves, but they're part of the literary family and those of us who love books can't help feeling a loss. RIP to the Borders we once knew.

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