Monday, February 21, 2011

Three Views of the Borders Bankruptcy

From the American Bookseller's Association:

Though Borders is not a member of the American Booksellers Association, we are always saddened when any bookstore closes. The industry – whether independent bookstores, publishers, or readers – does not benefit from the diminishment of places to browse, discover, and buy books.

However, despite the doom and gloom expressed by some about the future of full-service bricks-and-mortar bookstores – and, while we don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead – ABA believes that the indie bookstore model is well positioned for the future.

ABA membership numbers have stabilized; the vast majority of ABA members are coming off the best holiday season they have had in years; and, we’ve partnered with Google to allow our members to offer e-books through their websites.

As book buyers and readers are facing a skyrocketing number of books vying for their attention – with more and more demands on their time – our members’ customers are telling us that, now more than ever, they appreciate the care independent stores take in choosing the titles to stock, and that the curated selection in our stores can’t be found elsewhere.

In addition, more and more consumers appreciate the fact that our members are locally owned and have long-standing and close ties to their communities. They understand that by shopping in an independent store they are making sure that far more of their spending dollars recirculate back into the community. Shopping locally supports the small businesses that are creating jobs, directly fuels local growth, and helps preserve the special things that make each American community unique.

Looking ahead, we know that indie stores will have to continue to work hard and stay nimble and innovative. No matter what may appear in the headlines today, and understanding that the circumstances leading to the current situation facing Borders is very different than those of independents, we believe that our members will continue to offer their customers a unique shopping experience they can’t find anywhere else.

From Paul Kozlowski, a long-time, serious book person, currently working for Other Press:

10 reasons Borders should croak
1. To remind publishers that their industry consists of making books first, spreadsheets second.

2. To allow a host of talented book people to get back to work in adapting to new technologies and financial terms, instead of nursing a sick and contagious retailer.

3. To serve as an object lesson in the consequences of bad management.

4. To reduce the amount of linear shelf space devoted to books in dozens of overbuilt markets across the country.

5. To vindicate all of the fine book people who originally built Borders and worked for the company during the first three decades of its existence. They are the ones who watched in horror as a succession of greedy fools and outside operators -- men and women with no feeling for the culture of books -- presided over the company's decline, with no thought except for their own compensation.

6. To give independent booksellers a chance to reestablish beachheads in communities that were overrun by chains.

7. To prove, yet again, that repeating the retail sloganeering of the day -- "category management," "just-in-time inventory," "synergistic merchandising" -- accomplishes nothing unless you actually do what you say you're going to do.

8. To show exactly how worthless a highfalutin mission statement really is. (One sure sign that a corporation is sick at the core -- the bullshit mission statement. An honest mission statement would read: "Our mission is to make a profit, pure and simple." Unfortunately, Borders couldn't even carry out that mission.)

9. To illustrate the pernicious effects of untrammeled growth, the same "growth is good" ideology that led to the mortgage meltdown and financial crisis of the last four years.

10. Finally, to end the silly speculation, the enervating news stories, and the distracting pronouncements of impending doom. We don't need to be reminded these are tough times -- we're living through them. But it's bracing and ultimately inspiring to see the wheat properly separated from the chaff.

Borders plight redux, from Paul Kozlowski a day later:

The other day I gave ten reasons why Borders should go under, all of which remain valid. Even so, there is always another side to a story. Here are some reasons why Borders’ demise is bad news:

★ Loss of jobs. It is shocking and depressing to contemplate the human cost of having so many people thrown out of work, especially those hourly employees who kept faith and took pride in their individual stores even while management was selling them out. They deserve sympathy and aid, especially given the high number of unemployed already out on the street. Then there are those poor souls who have been selling and servicing the account for publishers. What will become of them?

★ Loss of common space for readers to gather. Borders' superstores had become community social centers, where people from all walks of life, united by their love for books, could sit together, drink coffee, read, write, converse, and enjoy each other’s company. Despite the rhapsodizing of the techno-savants over the creation of an “online commons,” it is nothing compared to the real thing -- a shared physical space and a shared physical experience. Shuttering these spaces will impoverish the communities who depended on them.

★ Lost sales at healthy retailers due to the dumping of inventory in a liquidation sale.

★ Loss of diversity in the retailing eco-system. As poorly managed as Borders was, it did provide an alternative for those who didn’t like Barnes & Noble’s cookie-cutter merchandising or live near an independent bookstore. Borders did bring physical books into the otherwise barren wasteland of American big box retailing.

★ Loss of tax revenues for local jurisdictions.

★ More power accruing to Amazon. Amazon already owns the largest slice of the retail book business pie by far, a condition it exploits to extract favorable terms from publishers and bully states into backing down on sales tax collection initiatives. Amazon is a big, efficient virtual selling platform but a lousy marketer (except for their own products, i.e. the Kindle) and it couldn’t care less about the content it hawks, only the profits it generates. It adds nothing to the browsing experience and relies on algorithms to make customer suggestions. It has the personality of an ATM. Who wants Amazon to control half of the trade book market?

★ An increase in vacant storefronts, those filthy eyesores strung along America’s highways.

★ An increase in the odds that Books-A-Million and Hastings will survive and limp along doing what they’ve always done. That these two backward-looking and unappealing retail chains are still in business is a sure sign that inertia is the most powerful force acting on the marketplace.

★ Loss of display space for the fine handiwork of all the talented cover artists and designers who make books look good. Jacket art is still one of the most compelling factors in getting consumers to pick up a book. A thumbnail online doesn’t come close to the real thing.

★ A substantial ratcheting up of the fear about the future of books and a new wave of mournful, or celebratory, articles, blog posts, and ‘think pieces’ stating that physical books and bookstores are dead. Ugh.

No comments: