Farewell Borders and Hello Change by Cassiel Knight

Where were you when you got the word Borders was closing?

I was at work, checking my email at lunchtime when I saw the Yahoo notice. I remember thinking, how sad, then my thoughts immediately went to our wonderful Borders Beaverton romance bookseller. After that, I began to think about what this meant for the traditional publishing industry already feeling the pinch.

I did a search online and found a few articles from national newspapers and their quick take on Borders closing. The NY Times reported publishers saying that with Borders gone, “they would plan for smaller print runs and shipments” and that “employees at major publishing houses worried about layoffs because many companies staff members who work only with Borders.”  The Times also speculates that the closing could particularly hurt paperback sales because of Borders’ reputation for taking special care in selling paperbacks.

Then came the speculation about what this meant for independent bookstores and how, in an ironic twist, independent bookstores could actually stand to benefit from the closings.  But not everyone agrees. In fact, in a Washington Post  article, a publicity director from Grand Central Publishing notes how they are selective about what independents they work with.  Wonder what criteria they use to determine what independent to support?

Throughout the online posts, some commenters’, while bemoaning the closing, were quick to offer less sympathy for the chain that forced many independent stores to close. One commenter said, “I saw this coming after Borders forced an independent store across the street out of business. The hunter becomes the hunted.” Whether or not you agree, there is no denying that a lot of independents were unable to survive the chains. Will we begin to see the birth of more independents? Or, with the advent of digital books, will the ones that survived become the courted?

I think, if I was New York published right now, I’d be worried. It’s difficult enough for a new/unknown author to claim space on a shelf unless you are backed by your publisher. With the close of Borders, is there room for anyone but the bestsellers?

Surprisingly enough, at least to me, when I did the search, I didn’t find that sort of discussion going on. Now, I’m not a member of Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) published author network (PAN) so there could be all kinds of chattering going on the PAN loop and I wouldn’t know; however, I would have expected there to be more discussion elsewhere. Yet, it’s been relatively silent. Even the loops have been pretty quiet except for the reminiscing about the loss of a favorite bookstore. Why is that?

I have a theory. For most of us, I believe it’s because we romance authors have seen this coming and have been, in a lot of ways, on the forefront years ago with our forays into epublishing. Like the pioneers of our past, these authors and publishers have blazed the path for the rest of us. The same thing is happening with self-publishing.

This is why when I think about a big chain like Borders closing, I’m comforted by the fact that this isn’t a time to be scared. It’s a time to embrace all that is available. I suspect even the pure New York published who would have never considered any other route except traditional publishing are working on business plans that encompass all the avenues to being published.

What do you think? If you are traditionally published author, are you worried? If not, why? For all, does this cause you to rethink the quest for the agent or traditional publishing model? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Posted on July 24, 2011, in Kim Wollenburg and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Maggie, I like your vision of what the bookstore of today might look like – a place to print POD and an ebook sales relationship. You might be on to something. I wonder if anyone else is thinking this way? But, you did forget one tiny thing. A cafe, of course! :-D Thanks for chatting with us.

  2. I am sad to see Borders closing because in many smaller towns it was the only big bookstore. Towns like Eureka don’t have a B&N for example. I’m a huge supporter for independents, but depending on where they are and the money they can invest, the selection is often VERY limited. And in many towns independents do not support romance. I know that Portland is different, and Jan’s Paperbacks is a huge supporter but I’ve lived in many other places where that isn’t the case.

    I think the reason you don’t see a lot on the loops is because the Borders closing has been going on for two years. We all knew it when they stopped paying their bills on time–or at all. Then publishers stopped shipping to them because they wouldn’t get paid. Small presses who were trying to get into the brick and mortar stores really relied on Borders and they got burned really badly in the payment department.

    I believe brick and mortar bookstores can still thrive, but they will thrive with a model that embraces and encourages both ebook and print book purchases. I think that’s why B&N will continue to gain market share. The big question for all bookstores–independents or majors–is what is the model that will allow them a piece of the ebook market AND how can they carry a large selection without investing in big stores and large inventory? I have some ideas but I don’t have a crystal ball.

    If I were investing in a bookstore today I would want two things in place. 1) A book Espresso Machine so I could print POD copies for any books I don’t carry in stock. and 2) an ebook sales relationship with a larger entity where I get a share of the pie. I think we will see some publishers (probably not Amazon) cutting deals with bookstores to have “sample” books and then website sales of ebooks with a cut of the profit. This meets the needs of browsers who want to feel and look at the book but will ultimately download it to a reader. I’m not quite sure how it will work, but I think that’s the next direction and those who are able to take advantage of it and make those partnerships will be in a unique sweet place for customers.

    Of course, I could also be all wet. :)

  3. I’m mostly frozen in terror, but that seems to be a common theme for me. ;)

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