Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Borders Debacle

First, let me make it absolutely clear: I make no claims whatsoever to being a publishing pundit. I'm an editor. I acquire, develop, edit, and project manage books (and sometimes things which are not books, like notecards or blank journals). But, as an editor, I also manage a list (in my case Art & Design titles), and that means, among other things, doing my best to keep up with what's going on in The Industry. And what's going on lately is: Borders. A couple of weeks ago they filed for bankruptcy and are now in the process of closing more than half their stores. Besides Borders employees themselves, the people this most directly effects are: publishers (landlords appear to be coming in a distant third). No one's sure yet exactly what the impact on the book business will be, but it will surely be big. Now, as it happens, the the most nearby bookstore in the neighborhood where I live happens to be a Borders. Specifically the Borders at Union Square, pictured above. So when they started their big liquidation sale over President's Day weekend, Bill and Mabel and I strolled down to check it out. There were two main things that stood out about this sale: 1) It was packed. It was raining that day and the pile of the umbrellas by the door was mountainous--fifty wet umbrellas on the floor? a hundred? Oh how I wish I'd had my camera with me! People all over the place and all of them shopping seriously for books. And, 2) It wasn't that great a sale. 20% off books and 40% off magazines. As I overheard someone with an armload of volumes point out to his companion "I could get these for less on amazon." But here's the thing: he was in line for the cash register. He was buying them anyway. We ourselves dropped a pretty penny. There's something people--maybe especially in the current zeitgeist--cannot resist about the idea of a big old sale. And I must admit it made me wonder, how much of their financial hole could they have dug themselves out of if they'd had the sale before they filed for chapter eleven? Granted, probably not enough, but it does make you think.

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