Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Borders, RIP

Sad but not unexpected news that longtime bookseller Borders is filing for bankruptcy. That's going to be one fewer place that I can go to the bathroom when I'm walking through town (good thing for the Eastern Market, and Smithsonian museums, neither of which makes you "ask for the key from the barista" before you use theirs). Borders--like its doppelganger, Barnes & Noble--also served a useful function as a place to peruse through books that you were going to end up buying on Amazon or check out from the library. None of these uses, however, translates into sales that help the bookseller.

One way to look at this is that like video stores, booksellers are victims of new technology. Four dollars to rent a movie for a couple nights seems a high price (and inconvenient!) compared to live streaming or the Netflix mail order model, and buying full price books at the store has the same flaw. Online purchases are usually cheaper and don't involve lugging books around--and of course the much cheaper used bookstores make it hard to justify paying many multiples of the used book price for brand new. (Yes, used book stores mean running into hippies, but once you get used to the smell of patchouli and Green Party activism they're fine people) I think the only time I ever shopped at major booksellers is when I'm buying a gift, and since my friends are mostly illiterates that doesn't amount to much.

But there's another reason to lament the end of the major bookstores--these places tend to anchor a neighborhood. What do you usually see near a bookstore? A coffee place, restaurant, gallery--the sort of places that stabilize a neighborhood and provide needed life during the day and weekends (banks generally do nothing for neighborhoods outside of the M-F 8AM-4PM hours, and pawn shops generally attract fencers of stolen goods). What will take the place of the large bookseller in the various neighborhoods?



  2. I should add that this is reorganization, and not liquidation, bankruptcy.

  3. MSnay--this is true, bankruptcy alone doesn't really mean the same as "out of business"--in fact, a lot of businesses go quite a long time in "bankruptcy" as creditors and the courts try and get as much use out of the assets (stores, inventory, employees). Just think, if Borders was more politically useful, it would have been deemed "too big to fail" and gotten a bailout.