Borders allows you to purchase books online via their in-store kiosks... after you've driven to the store and discovered they don't have the title you want. Hmm.
Well, the day is finally here. Just as I watched over the last two years as GM finally slid into bankruptcy and reorganization and my hometown newspaper The Ann Arbor News went under, Ann Arbor-based Borders is now in the same boat. So how did one of the top names in bookselling go bankrupt? It’s a headline most of us in Ann Arbor and the publishing industry have expected to see for a long time, actually.
Employees streaming out of the local Borders headquarters have said for nearly a decade that the company has serious issues with management and strategic direction. We could all see the flagship store change from a literary wonderland where you could always find a new treasure to just another big box bargain bin of bestsellers and even worse, lots of other merchandise. When a bookstore can’t sell books, you know there’s a real problem. The company will tell you that its problem is that people now buy books online, and that Amazon is a primary comptetitor, but did you know that Amazon originally worked with Borders to sell their books? The deal went awry and Borders came out with Borders.com instead, which was much much less valuable to the customer. And here we are.
Since I’m now a self-published author trying to get book signings and find a traditional publisher for my first novel, I’m now intimately aware of how big box stores like Borders are being cut out of the bookselling process by e-book publishing, because people buying books for their Kindles of course don’t need to walk into a Borders store to purchase an e-book.
Brick and mortar stores also don’t have room to shelve all the thousands of books published every year. The bookselling channels are starting to move around big companies like Borders and Barnes & Noble because their systems are just too clogged with big-name books to give a chance to the vast majority of unproven books. And who needs a bookstore that only carries books you already heard about and can peruse and buy online? Brick and mortar stores just aren’t capable of displaying all the books people want to buy, and there are thousands of books published every year that couldn’t even fit in a bookstore. In short, brick and mortar stores are old technology.
I’m upset that another hometown company has gone under, especially since the “mothership” Borders store on Liberty St. in Ann Arbor was my childhood bookstore and the wonderful place I went to browse for new books in college and shop for Christmas presents my whole life. I suppose that time is past. I know the company is reorganizing and has received capital from GE in order to make it, but the fact is that big ships like GM and Borders don’t turn around quickly, and I’m afraid that by the time the company figures out just how far behind the times it is, it will be in the same position the Ann Arbor News found itself after a decade of poor news coverage and refusal to go high-tech.
We Ann Arborites must look like a bunch of idiots to you, huh? Sigh.
The good news is that the old gatekeepers of media are falling off their posts because they’re no longer qualified to filter media for consumers. With a publishing and bookselling system as clogged–dare I say broken–as it has become in recent years, it is high time things changed. We are entering an age of unprecedented access to information. Those media outlets who do a good job of helping consumers discover the content they want and need will be the new gatekeepers. Authors such as myself are working hard to make sure our books are in as many channels as possible, but after dealing with arrogant bookstore event planners and clogged distribution channels that won’t even accept POD-published titles at all for placement on bookstore shelves, I’m looking forward to cutting out the old systems entirely in favor of the new technology that works: e-books, online book sales, and niche promotional tools. RIP, Borders. I know Chapter 11 means you’ll be back in a meaner, leaner form, not disappeared, but let’s face it: your brokenness is a function of the state of bookselling as a whole, and that situation hasn’t changed at all.