a brief eulogy for Border’s Books and Music
By now you probably have read that Borders Books and Music has filed for bankruptcy and will be closing about 30% of their stores. Many folks won’t give a hoot…they don’t have a Borders in their town anymore or they have already made the leap to an e-reader. Which I guess seems to be the wave of the future if you read all the press.
In most of the articles about Border’s filing, it’s blamed on the fact that they gave away their online business model to Amazon in 2001 (they took it back in 2008 when I guessed they realized internet shopping was here to stay)and never developed an e-reader strategy. The press has trotted out all the so-called experts today who are Friday quarterbacking what went wrong and what the future holds. It’s funny…these business analysts and mondo-marketeers know all the answers when businesses fail, but you’d think they’d be better off helping to stem the collapse and not gloating over them. Of course in our financial system, you can win when you pick the loser. Seems backwards to me.
Here’s some quotes from the Christian Science Monitor that I found online:
“People need to understand the role of bookstores in the book-business food chain”, says Antoinette Kuritz, a literary development agent who directs the La Jolla Writers Conference of San Diego. “Bookstores are basically consignment shops. They put books on their shelves and only pay for those books when they actually sell through to a customer,” she says. When it comes to physical books, she adds, “publishers have been taking a beating for years.”
Well if that’s the case, why would Border’s lose out if they don’t have to pay for anything unless they sell it? Here’s what another expert says:
“Brick-and-mortar stores that go to where their customers are will be the survivors”, says Scott Spiewak, CEO of Fresh Impact Public Relations in Seattle. He has focused on the book market for 14 years and says the biggest change for booksellers is understanding where their customers are. These days, he says, that is online or on a mobile device, whether that is an iPad, an e-reader such as a Kindle or a Nook, or a cellphone.
In a restless, mobile society accustomed to consuming information electronically, the shift to e-books is a simple fact, says Mr. Spiewak. “Digital publishing is meeting consumers where they are at – on their devices, not in a store,” he says.
And the final word from yet another expert:
“I think that there will be a 50% reduction in bricks-and-mortar shelf space for books within five years, and 90% within 10 years,” said Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of Idea Logical Co., a New York consulting firm. “Book stores are going away.”
But here’s a ray of sunshine that the CSM closes with: One possible upside? The demise of superstore booksellers could revitalize the neighborhood bookstore. (You hear this Grant?)
Anyway…there’s really only one reason I’ve taken to the time today to post this. I used to remember back in the nineties when if you were an Americana, folk, alt-country, jazz, blues, roots, classical, indie or non-pop artist…Border’s meant something to you. They supported the music (a shout-out to Len Cosimano, who ran the music division and Vicky Marshall who was the marketing guru), and they helped bring back the concept that consumers needed to sample the music before they plunked down their fifteen bucks for a CD. People would spend hours trying out all the music in the listening stations and I think that was a good thing. They also brought artists into their stores for performances and signings. Especially in smaller towns and the x-burbs, Borders was briefly the only cultural mecca in town, unless you count the ol’ Dairy Queen.
To be clear…they did their part in putting tons of indie booksellers out of business with their big box concept, so it’s not like they are wearing the white hats in this story. But I guess for what they did to help out many musicians and record labels over the years, it’s okay to wish them an adios. I wish all the employees who are going to be laid off all the best…and it’s ironic because many of them came from those indie bookstores and chains like Tower and Virgin too.