Borders Closing – For Real This Time

In Thoughts on Publishing on July 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Everyone’s writing about this. But I can almost guarantee nobody else’s article will be full of monkey-math and unbased hypotheses!

So, what happened? According to the news stories I’ve read, Borders declared bankruptcy earlier this year. They closed a bunch of stores but kept some open in hopes an investor would come along to save them. All the while, they didn’t pay all their contracts for their inventory sold (they couldn’t) and this caused some publishers to stop sending them shit. That was the final spiral that spelled their doom.

At the 13th hour, nobody came to save them. They were forced to announce total liquidation and the loss of ~10,000 jobs and ~400 storefronts (I just saw a tweet about Books-A-Million maybe buying up a few dozen stores, so maybe it won’t be complete destruction).

Why the total failure by such a longstanding idol of book-buying and browsing?

Well, I can’t say for certain, but my gut tells me they held on to the brick-and-mortar life-raft for far too long. Also, others have researched and written about it far better than I could. Like it or hate it, the market has changed with the evolution of mobile devices, social media, the interwebs and publishing industry revolution. I blogged about Borders’ bankruptcy earlier this year, and many of those feelings still ring true in my heart. If you want to read about my feelings on the social change aspect of this whole mess, that post is better.

The loss of in-person browsing will certainly have an impact upon all book sales, not just paperback. I’ve read posts and responses from people who would enter a Borders to find a book, and then go buy it online. Without a physical location to camp, these people may purchase less books. Of course, that act of browsing at the store and buying online speaks to the retail reality around us – there are better deals online. Heck, when you don’t need to maintain hundreds of physical locations along with rent, utilities, insurance, maintenance, sales force, theft, etc., etc. — of course you can offer something a brick-and-mortar cannot.

Following the liquidation announcement, the Alliance for Main Street Fairness (AMSF) fired a shot into the media slipstream:

“Special treatment for is decimating job providers like Borders and countless small businesses across the country. It is simply not fair that one business is able to operate with a government-sanctioned advantage that allows it to undercut its competitors forcing lost jobs and business closures. Lawmakers need to level the playing field and end the special deal that gives Amazon a competitive advantage over Main Street,” said Danny Diaz, spokesperson for the Alliance for Main Street Fairness (AMSF).

They claim the ability of Amazon to sidestep sales tax gives them an unfair advantage in the book-selling game. I wasn’t so sure, so I conducted a Matt-Monkey-Math survey yesterday! I asked my peeps what would most make them NOT purchase a book that catches their eye. Here’s the results:

Iffy on the “blurb”: 6

High Price: 5

The format they prefer is not available: 4

The quality is “suspect”: 1

Yeah, I know 16 responses isn’t actually a viable sample size, but I’m not exactly being paid for my research skillz. :) So backdafuckup.

Maybe AMSF has the kernel of an argument here (many of my responders cited “price” as a deciding factor). I’d go as far as supporting them in the sales-tax thing if I knew more about it. I have no freakin’ clue how it works (Amazon must pay some sort of tax, right?), but I would argue the addition of sales tax to Amazon sales wouldn’t change my purchasing methods. Amazon can still set a better price because of all the things mentioned before – they have leveraged technology and business acumen (“people who bought this also bought this” is killer) to achieve superior results. *Shrug* They beat Borders (maybe), good for them. Isn’t that what our free market is about? (minus the sales tax thing – even it out if it’s not fair, makes no diff to me) I just don’t believe the sales tax issue is majorly responsible for Amazon’s success and Borders fall, that’s all.

One interesting fact from my lame survey was nobody picked this option: “Publisher you don’t know.” I’ve actually heard some opponents to self-publishing froth about readers “trusting” publishers and caring about that NYC print on the title page.

Yeah… riiiiight. I’m still not buying that argument; try again, fuckers.

We’re moving into a book-buying age where some books can succeed based upon social support and peer review. Imagine that! Your book can sell on its own merits, rather than wallow in obscurity because it didn’t fit some publishing house’s plans for the year. I don’t know about other self-published authors, but this fact excites me. I’m nobody and I’ve sold (with the help of my underpaid, awesome team) just under 2,000 copies of my books to complete strangers in less than a year. So far, I’ve yet to get a negative review – yeah, I count the “sacrilegious” Eden review as a positive. While those numbers are quite laughable to successful writers, I’m proud of them. The online age has allowed me to reach readers who enjoy my fiction. Sharing my work with even just 1 other person is all I ever wanted in my storyteller’s heart. 2,000 (and growing) is just a bonus.

I am quite transparent in all my research & self-pubbing numbers. If you have a question, please contact me. I love helping others and sharing useful data!

All the “data” aside, I still feel the online marketplace has much more to offer (including price) than a traditional bookstore, and that’s why Amazon rules the school. When you are about to make a purchase, isn’t more information better than less info? Online, you can see what other readers have said about the book, author info/links and (in Amazon’s case) similar purchases which may be in-line (or not) with your likes/dislikes. Heck, who wants to waste their money these days? While I think it’s noble to support “Main Street USA,” I like to have all the info I can before spending my entertainment dollars. Amazon just delivers on that front better than a bookshelf at a physical store can.

I dunno. At its most basic parts (less bookstores), I don’t like it. But, I’m also not one to fear social change. I actually despise those chain emails that talk about how the next generation is fucked/different/deprived, and our days of youth were full of nostalgic perfection. Times change. The world changes. Bookstore closings are just another symptom of this social flow.

You can express your gratitude and support for the Borders employees on Twitter:#ThankUBorders

Matthew C. Plourde is not only an official member of LitU, but a heck of a guy to boot. His blog can be found here.

  1. 1. Amazon does not pay sales tax in those states in which they have physical operations. This is by agreement with the state; they’ve agreed to give Amazon a pass on that in order to get JOBS. They’d rather have their citizens employed so those citizens can afford to pay not only sales taxes, but income taxes, property taxes, registration taxes, fees, etc. Jobless people can’t do that.
    2. Amazon’s victory goes deeper than just a no-tax mandate. They jumped on the digital bandwagon, while Borders laid back on their print-copy laurels and said that their customers would never change. They ignored the lessons learned by Tower Records: No matter what your customers say, they ALWAYS change.
    3. As far as the experience of browsing a bookstore’s shelves, I’ve soured on it since I became an indie. You have to understand that whatever a bookstore carried was what the publishers or corporate book buyers decided the store should carry and prominently display. This gave indies ZERO opportunity. I stopped going to bookstores for that reason, and this is all coming from a girl who LOVES print books, even to this day. (Borders was notoriously better at entertaining indie authors, but nowhere near aggressive enough.)
    4. I have a Kindle. I love my Kindle. I also love my audiobooks, because they’re all “green” (all the material lives in the Cloud). It’s not very responsible to do a print run of books when you know you won’t sell all of the copies, or that those copies will eventually be resold to a second-hand bookstore, which undercut your profits. It’s not only irresponsible, but it’s a bit more like piracy because the publishers and authors do not see second-round profits from the resale.

    Don’t tempt me. I can go on and on. RIP, Borders. Long live Amazon.

  2. Haha – thanks for the extra info, MJH! Very interesting…

    – MCP

  3. Matt,

    I really enjoyed this post.

    It sucks for the Borders employees, but they had to have seen that the ship was sinking. It’s not like they hit a iceberg in the middle of the Caribbean.

    Border’s complaining about Amazon is the same complaint that Mom & Pop stores had when the large book store chains moved into town. They all must grow / change with the times or be swallowed up.

    Anyway, interesting blog post!



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