15 September 2011 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 10 comments

On Sunday, September 18, 2011–three days from today–the final Borders stores will close. Most of them have already shuttered up and gone dark. The last two Michigan stores close today. That’s especially sad, as Borders was born and based in Ann Arbor. The last store in Las Vegas also closes today. The last Chicago store closed yesterday, and the liquidator donated 8000 books to the Chicago schools. For those of us who love books, this is nothing but sad news.

I spent many an hour in our local Borders stores in the 20+ years that the company conducted business in Columbus, and God only knows how much money. I enjoyed the ambiance of the stores: LOTS of books on lots of subjects, nice, comfortable chairs to sit and browse the books, nice bistros to get a snack or something to drink. The stores always had excellent inventories and selections of Civil War books, which I always very much appreciated, usually including at least one of my titles and usually more. I could–and did–spend many hours in Borders, and I have felt a persistent sense of loss since our local stores closed several months ago during the first major round of store closures.

Sadly, the story of the failure of Borders may never be told. It is a sad tale of bad business decisions, a terrible choice of CEO in hiring someone who knew nothing about the bookselling business, really unfavorable leases (the flagship Chicago store had monthly rent of $1,000,000 per month–you have to sell a LOT of books to meet that nut), staying in the CD business too long when the music business has changed dramatically due to the popularity of devices like the iPod, poor technology–whomever thought that it was a smart move to partner with Amazon, Borders’ primary competitor, for online sales wasn’t terribly bright, and whomever missed the boat on developing and marketing an e-reader to compete with the Nook and the Kindle was just plain stupid. Finally, Borders was a victim of the changing paradigm of the book publishing business, which is filled with uncertainty as to what the future holds. Thus, the Borders saga is a cautionary tale, both of how NOT to run a business, but also of how to run a business into the ground, and its failure was probably inevitable. There are many lessons to be learned from its failure. However, the inevitable failure of Borders is nevertheless a sad thing for anyone who loves books.

Simon & Schuster, which was Borders’ biggest creditor and which recently negotiated a more favorable deal with Barnes & Noble, put the kaibosh on a potential sale of the corpse of Borders to the Book-of-the-Month Club, which was going to dip a toe into the water of brick and mortal retail sales. It also nixed the sale of more than 30 of the Borders leases to Books-a-Million in order to cozy up to Barnes & Noble.

And so, we’re left with Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million. I detest Barnes & Noble. The stores carry only a tiny percentage of the incredible inventory that Borders maintained and it’s a quintessential big box retailer that cares nothing about the customers. The last time that I was in the local B & N superstore, it had about 30 Civil War titles in its inventory–that’s it. Even though I am a local author who lives about five miles from the store, they rarely ever have any of my stuff, even in the local interest section. It really makes me angry, if the truth be told. Books-a-Million does not maintain a presence in Central Ohio, so our only option is B&N, meaning that it looks like I will be doing the overwhelming majority of my future book buying through Amazon.

The only good thing that may come out of the death of Borders is a rebirth for the small, independent bookseller, as this article points out. No matter how popular electronic gadgets like the Nook or Kindle may become, old school guys like me will always prefer to hold the real thing. I just prefer the look and smell and feel of a real book, and I will always prefer them to my Nook. The failure of big box Borders opens the door for the independent booksellers to cater to the likes of me, and I hope that they do. I would dearly love to have an alternative to Barnes & Noble in Columbus, and I will continue to buy books from the independent booksellers (such as the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop, which is a sponsor of this blog).

Fare thee well, Borders. You will be missed.

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Comments

  1. Dayton
    Thu 15th Sep 2011 at 5:44 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly Eric. I happened to be in Fredericksburg this afternoon and dropped in to the Borders there to try and find some deals. What I found was slimmer than slim pickins, and a skeleton of its former self which I had enjoyed dearly over the years. There is something intrinsically organic about reading a book that will never be captured by an e-reader. RIP Borders.

  2. GE Colpitts
    Thu 15th Sep 2011 at 7:28 pm

    I’m with you, Eric. I enjoy having a book in my hands and Border’s was the best place to go for them.

    Hard to take a Kindle or Nook to the beach or to bed.
    Plus if you drop it, you’re cooked along with your entire library. And then, there’s the outdated and obsolete technology that will come all too quickly. Show me one museum that has outdated technology in a climate-controlled room where hundreds of people come by to see it annually.

    Need I mention that the annealing point of plastic is far lower than that of paper?

    Sheesh.

  3. PHW
    Thu 15th Sep 2011 at 10:53 pm

    Try living in the Central Coast of California. It’s a 50 mile drive to the nearest bookstore, a B&N. All the other B&Ns, Borders, and Waldenbooks, etc have all closed in more than a 100 mile radius. Besides the one B&N, it’s nearly a drive to SF or LA for a bookstore.

  4. Mike Fitzpatrick
    Thu 15th Sep 2011 at 11:07 pm

    The same CEO who ran Borders into the ground left that sinking ship to be hired by the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P). He was gone in 6 months and then the company declared Chapter 11 shortly after.
    To add insult to injury, he left with a million dollar buyout!
    Go figure!

  5. Brian
    Fri 16th Sep 2011 at 12:24 am

    I am saddened by the demise of Borders, too. Like you, I spent many hours in the Borders nearest my house in Maryland, and like you, I prefer real, actual books to electronic book readers.

    However, the Barnes & Noble that I most frequently visit (in downtown Washington DC) has a pretty good selection of Civil War books. By contrast the closest DC Borders to that B&N location didn’t have a very good CW section. I wouldn’t use one location’s inventory as an illustration of the entire chain. It’s probably a decision on the part of local/regional managers based on what they think will sell.

  6. Dennis
    Fri 16th Sep 2011 at 4:53 am

    I too am solidly in the real book camp, despite pressure from the child bride and our children to jump forward a few centuries!

    There is something intrinsically satisfying about resting a book on one’s lap in a recliner or in bed. Remembering your place after the inevitable nap is a challenge too!

    We were unaware of the closing until we saw the signs on the Borders in Hagerstown, MD. Very sad.

    Regards,
    Dennis

  7. Fri 16th Sep 2011 at 7:10 am

    Tom Nanzig, who was President of the AACWRT when you came here, went to Borders #1 and bought one of the “Military History” signs for $3.50!

  8. Terry Johnston
    Sat 17th Sep 2011 at 11:43 am

    Actually, it appears that Books-a-Million will be taking over some Borders locations after all. A few days ago, an article in our local paper noted that our Borders (Mays Landing, NJ) will be among them. Which will mean the only big bookstore in the county will stay open.

  9. Sun 18th Sep 2011 at 3:01 pm

    We are “blessed” to have both a B&N and a BAM locally. Both are a mess. I worked at the B&N about 15 years ago and it was a real store then. The employees cared and the selection was good. I’d say the title count is down by 50% now and replaced with games, toys, nick nacks, open space, etc. What is left is pretty bad. 2-3 shelves of Civil War titles, mostly classics and B&N reprints that just about everybody has. Every now and then there’s a shocker like the couple of Savas Beatie titles they had a few months ago. The store is usually a mess. The Books a Million is located in the local mall if that gives you an indication of what it’s like. The shelves are a wreck and there’s very little order. If you want to deal with normal mall foot traffic this is your place. We have one decent used book store but no independent new stores. Sign of the times I guess when most around here are interested in sunning themselves to cancerous levels or Nascar. Ordering online looks to be the best option in these parts.

  10. Phil
    Sun 18th Sep 2011 at 3:59 pm

    I certainly agree with your comments about Borders vs. B&N. The Borders in downtown Seattle always had a more extensive, better-organized history section – all types of history – than B&N. I wish Borders had started a program similar to B&N “Readers Advantage” with its 10% discount – I probably would have bought even more there.
    And thank goodness for independent booksellers. I was just in Boston and went into Brattles Book Shop for the first time. What a delight! And purchases were made. My daughter is going to college in Boston, so visits to see her will also mean visits to Brattles.

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