Friday, July 22, 2011

Goodbye, Borders

The End

I suppose the Rupert Murdoch scandals and other topics have taken top spot in the news lately, but for those of you that buy books, and especially books on photography, the news that Borders will liquidate and shutter all their stores is a big topic here. Here is in Ann Arbor, where Borders began as a small bookstore, grew larger, became synonymous with great service and wonderful selection, grew larger still with more stores, then had the original owners (Tom and Louis Border) sell the company, and from there began a classic case of over-expansion, mismanagement, and inability to seize opportunity. Summary - a classic case of rags to riches to rags. Of course, now, the people "going to rags" are the 10,000 employees throughout the chain. I imagine that the Borders brothers have long dissociated themselves with the thing they created, and are probably sitting back and enjoying their lives, and it's not about them. It's about the subsequent sale to K-Mart in 2001, having Amazon sell your books because you didn't figure out that the internet is a BIG thing, and you built way more HUGE stores and forgot to hire top management that understood the book business. Okay, enough of ranting, as it's over, and I will miss the Borders here. Or at least I should say I miss the Borders of about 20 years ago that was on South State.

If you look at the "vintage" Borders bookmarks above, note that it says over 65,000 titles in stock, art posters, maps and sale books. It does not say coffee shop, toys, candy, games, videos, CDs, or stuffed animals. That was the Borders that many of us loved. They had a fantastic selection of books on photography (though at the time, I was probably buying computer books more than anything else in the early 1990s). The Borders then moved to Liberty Street (their "Flagship Store") and had a very good photography book selection until the past few years, and in the past 6 months, it was dismal. The closing of a big chain will have repercussion in the publishing world, for sure. The advantage of a real store is that I love to browse books, and look at them before deciding what I am going to buy. You can't really do that with Amazon. Photography books - especially those that are not about "how to use your DSLR" usually have lower sales than any trade paperbacks, and are certainly more expensive to produce than a text-only novel. The browsing experience is important with them. Maybe it's better to be content with being relatively small and very good, but in the business world, it seems that nobody's happy with that.

Hopefully, another large bookstore will find its way into downtown Ann Arbor. But the sad reality is Borders is gone - forever. I won't be at the liquidation sale that starts today. Maybe not ever.

Let me know your favorite memories of Borders.


Mike said...

Scored some great finds on their bargain shelves including Images in Stone by David Muench ($5).
They were also one of the few local sources of books in Spanish.

Anonymous said...

With book sales moving quickly away from paper and into electronic format, the days of giant bookstores are over. I actually was at a Walden Books (Borders subsidiary) yesterday browsing the going out of business sale. I saw a book that I wanted, went to the Nook app on my phone and bought the electronic version while still in the store. Failure to change with the times, that was the problem with Borders.

Mike said...

I think it is pretty obviously right that Borders didn't have a business model that was competitive in today's retail market. However, I'm not sure what that means exactly in terms of broader issues of book selling. It seems to me that both big and little bookstores are equally threatened by the move to electronic publishing and reading devices.

Another unknown of concern to me is the fate of the photo book. It isn't currently feasible to produce electronic versions of fine photo books such as the David Muench book I mentioned above. So, I would think it likely that there will still be a market for such books for some time, but one wonders how changes in the distribution process now underway will affect pricing and availability.