The story’s over for Borders, the beleaguered bookseller. The 40-year-old company, which began as a used bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had declared bankruptcy in February, at which time it closed a third of its 650 stores. While the Najafi Companies, which owns the Books-of-the-Month Club, had agreed to buy Borders for $215.1 million, the deal was rejected by a committee of Borders’ biggest unsecured creditors. The committee had contended that Najafi could liquidate Borders without the creditors benefiting, says the New York Times.
It’s a gloomy ending for Borders and for booklovers. Borders still has 399 stores and 10,700 employees; it is expected to close some of those stores as soon as Friday.
Just this morning, I wrote about the rise of bookless libraries at colleges and universities. Now it seems that more communities will be bookstoreless, smaller independent bookstores having themselves been swallowed up by mega-stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble in the past decades. As the New York Times comments,
The news exposed one of publishers’ deepest fears: that bookstores will go the way of the record store, leaving potential customers without the experience of stumbling upon a book and making an impulse purchase. In the most grim scenario, publishers have worried that without a clear place to browse for books, consumers could turn to one of the many other forms of entertainment available and leave books behind.
The shuttering of Borders will also have an effect on the publishing world:
Publishers said with Borders gone, they would plan for smaller print runs and shipments. Employees at major publishing houses worried that layoffs could be imminent, as many companies have dedicated staff members that work only with Borders.
The closing could have a particular impact in paperback sales. Borders was known as a retailer that took special care in selling paperbacks, and its promotion of certain titles could boost them to best-seller status.
No bricks and mortar bookstore seems able to withstand the Amazon juggernaut; Barnes & Noble has been up for sale for the past year, too. It’s hard to withstand the “you save $X!” that Amazon puts beside the price it sells an item for, not to mention the sheer vastness of Amazon’s inventory.
But therein lies the tragedy behind Borders closing. Bookstores were never really about just selling stuff. They were — are — community spaces, offering a place for readers of many ages to meet and talk (especially if the store houses a café) and engage in (pardon the grandiose language) something like the life of the mind. Bookstores were magical places to me when I was growing up. Toys were things my sister and I only got as presents on holidays and special occasions. But we could always get a book and my parents never turned down a request to visit a library.
On a more positive note, even though bookstores are becoming an extinct breed, the hunger for a good read, in paper or on an e-reader, seems as great as ever, based on the vast droves of Harry Potter fans. People say the current generation of college students is totally at home with and inclined to use digital devices. Yet I’ve noted that many of my students have a decided preference for good old-fashioned books they can scribble notes in; that they can read while waiting for the bus or on the bus with no worries of a dead battery. People want to filch laptops and iPads but not — think about it — books.
As Shakespeare wrote:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
Goodbye, Borders — but please keep supporting independent sellers like Powell’s and your local bookstore (if there’s still one near you).
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