Borders Files for Bankruptcy

Borders Files for Bankruptcy

borders-closing1Borders Group, owner of 659 bookstores across the United States, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

My lawyer buddies tell me this doesn’t actually mean they’ve filed ten previous chapters of bankruptcy, so apparently bankruptcy doesn’t proceed the way books do. Figures.

Borders said it will close about 200 of its most under-performing stores in the next several weeks. The list of stores that will close is here.

Today Borders is the country’s second-largest book retailer, just behind Barnes & Noble, with over 5,800 full-time and nearly14,000 part-time employees.

This follows the news that Barnes & Noble put itself up for sale last August, following a 45% slump in share price and a nearly 5% decline in year-over-year sales from store operations. It’s a tough time to be a brick-and-mortar book retailer.

Borders released a statement today saying:

It has become increasingly clear that in light of the environment of curtailed customer spending, our ongoing discussions with publishers and other vendor related parties, and the company’s lack of liquidity, Borders Group does not have the capital resources it needs to be a viable competitor.

Alice reminds me it’s probably time to get off my butt and redeem about a hundred bucks in assorted Borders gift cards we’ve accumulated over the years, before they’re rendered useless. The cards are scattered around the house, currently pulling duty as attractive bookmarks. She’s probably right, although I’ll doubtless lose my place in several books as a result.  I need to think about it.

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C.S.E. Cooney

You could give the gift cards to your children and turn them loose in the store.

Alternately, use ’em to buy cool things through the online store, thus adding to the problem. But they’ve filed anyway, so you might as well redeem! REDEEM!

[…] O’Neill has already written about this, but I just got the actual corporate balderdash letter. . . […]

GreenGestalt

Let’s see, the bookstores such as Barnes and Noble and Borders have huge stinking PILES of things like;

1. “Talk Show/Radio” ego trips. Sean Insanity, Mann Coulter, Michael Ravage… And they do NOT sell. I’m in a supposed “Red” state. One time I asked an employee the sales statistics, supposed “Bestsellers” had hardly sold a copy at all. Then his manager jumped on him and told him they were under contract not to release any statistics.

2. “Religious books/fiction”… They have to DUST these off.

3. The same stack of “General Interest” everyone else has for periodicals…

Frankly I like these bookstores. Yeah, they closed down smaller ones, but there already was almost no such thing as an “Independent” store anymore by the time they got to my neck of the woods.

My impression of developments like this is this: They have too many “one-sided” relationships with an “Industry” that publishes what it FEELS like publishing but they have to suck up the punches in the “Real World”… They stock the drek the publishers sludge out, oh yeah, some “Local interest” that nice condescending term but only if the “Publishing Industry” picks it up. Anything even remotely independent is “Order only” then with no competitive prices and takes the longest time to get here.

I truly think that what the public really wants, what the market really supports, is being held totally different from what a largely giant, monolithic industry wants to produce. The industry itself is big enough to get the tax breaks/subsidies -they print everything in CHINA for Gawdz sake…- and likely output “Propaganda” the New World Order wants to shove down people’s throats, but the bookstores now just subservient companies even the giant ones don’t necessarily get bailed out.

The solution would be to get RID of all the old “Rackets” and go for an ideal that we’ve been taught was the effective law of the land; “The Free Market”…

My proposal:

A. Titles are to be held in consignment with sales percentages paid out quarterly. In the event of theft/fire, etc. compensation is through insurance for the cost of printing only.

B. No contract with any publisher/writer. Stock in store is based on public requests, sales, discretion of the store manager.

C. If a party wants to sponsor a book, that is they like this or that writer, they are free to obtain the copies and put them in the store’s inventory on consignment.

D. E-reader libraries should be open to any writer, the store taking a commission of course for sales through their outlet.

—The long and short of this is that I want the “Bookstore” to be “The Marketplace” where people can buy/sell without “The mark of the Beast”… I consider “The publishing industry” indeed part of that whereas they should be the producers of the writer’s ideas, not dictators of who’ll never see anything but vanity press and who’ll be the next big name…

I’m working on a magazine project, delayed but due to a good business project that did it I could almost afford a “Print Run”. However, I know it’d be “Blocked” from this supposed “Free Market” not because it’s bad but because it’d get people buying it, considering it’s ideas and wanting more of the same. I’ve also got partly finished a book for the arts/crafts department and while that isn’t controversial I’m going to sell direct .pdfs…

I say this not out of any idle raving conspiracy theory. A few years prior I made a “Zine” that I did for 3 issues for nostalgia of younger years and tried to get it on the shelves. “It’s my zine. Costs 35 cents to print this issue with paper/laser toner, you sell for $1.25, give me 50c for each one that prints, keep the rest!” and it looked like the poor manager’s head would go “Explodey”… I’m giving him product that’s edgy, local, people who had read it really talked about it, I printed, he’d only pay if it sold and I volunteered if it got lost/stolen/set on fire by offended people I’d swallow the loss… Should be a few $ in the bank, doing the “We support Local Authors” bit and a nice thing to do for a regular customer… But it looked like his head would explode.

Nothing would make me happier than to have my Magazine and book printed out. Even if I had to use my own $ and it took years to get it back with a profit, it’d be well worth it. But I feel I’d never be able to get it into the stores in any “Mainstream” chain not due to quality/people liking/buying it but due to “Agendas” of elites at the top floor.

Tell me, people, have you not felt, sitting in those stores, looking through the stuff that largely things are “PC Drek” and you feel like you have to search far and wide and special order lots (sometimes ALL) of what you like? That, to try to sell to all, the corporations round off all the rough edges of things to make dull, grey product to force on the consumer in a market they control far stricter than the Communists ever did theirs?

I want bookstores, even these giant ones, to succeed. But they got to adapt to survive in a “Free Market” since the guys that excrete piles of “Mann Coulter” and “Michelle GrimMalkin” obviously don’t pay them for the loss…

Mister_Alex

This is too bad that Borders is shutting down stores. All but one where I live is being closed-thank goodness the biggest one will still be open! I like to browse once a month, and if I have enough money then I buy something at the end of the month. It’s nice to get something ‘now’ instead of waiting for an eBay order.

GreenGestalt: I don’t know if I agree entirely on your views of political book sales. Wouldn’t it vary state to state or town to town? Even in blue MA the books by Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck disappear from the shelves fairly quick.

You’re spot on with ‘PC Drek’, though. It’s so agonizing to look in the Young Adult section and see a disclaimer that THESE BOOKS MAY CONTAIN SEX, VIOLENCE AND DRUGS. PARENTAL SUPERVISION IS SUGGESTED.

Lydia Eickstaedt

Instead of dragging their heels and looking for an easy way out (that saves the CEOs but screws over the store employees) it’d behoove these stores to have improved their business model, oh, ten, fifteen years ago. Like the music and television/movie industry, the publishing industry can’t survive in a world so dependent on computers if they don’t make an effort to adapt. Especially not the resellers for the publishers.

GreenGestalt

John,

My observation was more that they stocked huge, stinking PILES of stuff that didn’t sell. Yeah, I’m in a “Red” state but Mann Coulter or Sean Insanity’s latest book even on the discounts is a lot of beer or two “men’s Magazines” which their audience is more likely to spend their increasingly limited funds on. The “Religious” stuff gathers dust at both Borders and B&N. It’s rather in shorter stock in the more edgy, more market adjusting Hastings.

And, yes, “Local Authors” etc. “Independent Authors” and so forth HAVE to go through various huge corporate publishing houses to be in stock. “We support local authors” but you come in with your zine asking for a tiny corner and it looks like the manager’s head will go explodey…but you can see the same phone book thick stack of some magazines that often only one or two disappears each month, replaced dutifully.

I’m not asking them to devote entire sections to Lin Carter and John Norman, or to make a special “Hakim Bey Poetry” section. I’m not asking them to stock nothing but bizarre periodicals that come and go, often overstock from closed operations and crazy ‘zines pushing aside even “TimeLy and NewsSpeak” for shelf space… Not that I wouldn’t love it if they did – joking, but only a little hyperbole:-)

What I’m asking simply is that for a new business plan they work with a more open, chaotic market and sell what sells. I don’t know if they have “Must buy” lists caused by Faustian contracts at the corporate level with big corporations, but IMO this HAS to be what has caused this. A bookstore, IMO, should be “The Marketplace” but no “Sign of the Beast” (corporate contract, I’d even fight the Barcode…) required to buy/sell. Of course a reasonable merchant cut with most titles on consignment and either covered by insurance or waiver in case of fire/theft etc. is acceptable.

See, I wand “Wild” and “Freedom” in a bookstore, not a collection of slightly variant titles obviously printed in China by the same houses.

The way I see it is say I do print out hardcopy my magazine or my arts/crafts book, or later collect the fictions I’m hammering out and print them…it’d be “Vanity Press” no matter how popular they were. No way would I ever get them in a bookstore unless, out of thousands of authors the big publishing companies “Just picked one” and then made me sign all sorts of contracts so that if say they made a movie out of it they could change it and debase it and I’d be lucky to even see royalties…

So, really, if you know more about “The Industry” at the bookstore level, am I wrong about getting stuff in the stores? I would gladly print out some of my stuff, but not if it’d be “Special order only” and again the store manager’s head going Explodey if I ask him/his distributor to stock ’em without a big giant company behind me…

Lydia Eickstaedt

Hi John,

Sorry for the delay– as you can tell, I’m still getting into the swing of checking blackgate with any regularity!

I actually wrote a complete post about my thoughts on this at my personal journal shortly after posting that comment which answers your question, so I’ll copy/paste here. It gets a little melodramatic toward the end, but that seems to be my idiom when it comes to pleading with business entities beyond my reach:

Borders has been flushing itself down the toilet for a few years now. I only knew of it because a friend of mine was working for them here in my area of residence, as a manager; they kept shutting down her stores until she just had to get a new job, because being transferred to another failing bookstore wasn’t an option anymore. And she loved working there because she loves books, but a few of us loving books isn’t going to do much when the market model is no longer designed around selling books.

Like Barnes and Noble, Borders has ‘modernized’ itself in the least Get-Product-Off-the-Shelves way possible. The product available, as one commenter on Blackgate mentioned, is often what the publishers say is going to sell, NOT what actually sells. There are coffee shops in these stores, which encourages talking, leeching, and lurking– but not buying books. Borders sells music and DVDs, too– at painfully uncompetitive prices, considering they never had anything in stock that I couldn’t find at Best Buy, Target, and the like. They try not to let people read the product in the store without buying it, but you can’t always be on top of something like that.

Worst of all, Borders has the most annoying rewards program spiel of any bookstore I know, so I, at least, didn’t feel the need to shop as often.

The core of the problem is, people don’t really read as much as they do other things. And when they do read, it’s a hell of a lot easier to buy things through online sites and just bite the bullet when it comes to exorbitant shipping costs than it is to go out to a store that might not even be near where you live, look around and HOPE they have what you’re looking for in stock. Don’t get me wrong: I do EXACTLY what I’ve just described and always have, but I often go to USED bookstores for hard-to-find books, because I know full well they won’t be at the new bookstores. In any case, Borders’ website is a place I’ve never been, nor wanted to go. Maybe it’s a great site, I don’t know, but nobody’s ever told me how awesome it was, or that I should totally use it because it helped them find X book that they really wanted.

I feel like brick-and-mortar stores that aren’t selling essentials, like food, can only really survive if they have something unique or at least exciting in them. In my experience, there’s nothing like that about Borders, and hasn’t been for many years. I often feel that way about bookstores that sell new books.

So what about giving control of the market to the actual audience? What if, instead of filling the stores with piles of so-called best sellers (which are determined by the number printed by the publishing company in ANTICIPATION of sales, but not by actual sales prior to publication), books were essentially printed on demand based on a genuine demand offered? And then those books were provided through a brick and mortar store so you don’t have to pay 18$ for the book, 10$ for shipping, and still owe taxes after?

For print-on-demand, or preorders determining publication, I can’t really see a downside. Yes, it’d require a lot more management on part of the publishers– gasp– it might require them to create more JOBS and employ more people! I have trouble finding that bad. I’ve seen various webcomic authors do this and I think it’s pretty wonderful when they succeed. It also gives readers the potential to directly show their support of a specific interest.

It still has to be done well! The downside to webcomic preorders specifically is that that books are often marketed before the product is fully finished. Pushing the sales harder often turns people away. Giving control of the market to the audience is a risky, scary thing, and sometimes it’s not as rewarding as we expect it to be.

Maybe then at least we’d see more things of quality published, though. I’d like to say I want higher standards in the industry so less crap gets published, but really, that seems pretty self-destructive. Instead of imposing my standards on other people, I’d just like to see publishing work a little more with the modern day. I’m already disheartened by the movie/film/video game/music industries’ childish inability to adapt to the idea of free information sharing. We always vaunt books as the savior of human intelligence and evolution towards peace, tolerance, and culture. Prove it. Let the publishing industry be the first to encourage free thinking, the first to flow with the information age and change to match it. Let Borders’ filing bankruptcy not be a prelude to disaster, but a cautionary tale of how things could have gone.

For the sake of everyone who predicted the future where we burn, forget, shun, and destroy the histories of our cultures, PLEASE, prove us wrong.

Lydia Eickstaedt

Hi John,

No, no. I feel that it’s really important for brick-and-mortar stores to embrace and USE the internet to bring them business. If your store has a website then I should know about it. (My comment about Borders’ site is basically that no one has EVER said ‘oh yeah, go to Borders.com to check it out’. They are not successfully advertising the usefulness of their site– employees don’t recommend it, and customers don’t talk about it, which means that even if it’s a great, convenient, awesome website that generates interest, it is not being used enough.)

I’m proposing an amalgamation, basically. I like being able to browse in brick and mortar stores, which is why I go to them. When I browse in Borders, I have often found that they do not have the one Gene Wolfe book I want, for example– but there are thirty copies of the latest installment of the Star Wars Extended Universe books. I can get the latter anywhere; a place where I could find the former would be a place I would remember. “Ah, they had that really difficult to find book that I wanted very badly! I remember them. I bet they would have this other book, too.”

A combination of print-on-demand and inventory would really help to solve that problem.

Also, my main complaint is that the inventory of books is rather small…since they’re “diversifying” their stock with shelves upon shelves of trinkets unrelated to books (including bath supplies in two stores I saw in the past three years), CDs, DVDs, and sprawling cafe areas. When I walk into a big book store, I want it to be filled with books; Borders is never filled with books since it sells such a high volume of non-book stock.

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