Monday, July 18, 2011

No Bookstore Is An Island

"Guess you're glad to hear that Borders is going out of business, huh?"

The customer who asked that seemed a little surprised with my response. "No, not at all," I told him. "I hate to see them go."

He couldn't believe it. "But they're your competitor--that's good news for you, isn't it?"

I explained to him that, first of all, I didn't consider Borders to be much of a competitor. That's not intended to be arrogant or dismissive--simply a statement of fact. Borders was a full-line entertainment store, we're a specialty comics store. Their entire selection of comics, graphic novels, and collected editions wouldn't fill even a small corner of our store; our selection in those product areas exceeded theirs by at least thirty times, probably more--and that's not counting backstock comics (ever try to find a Silver Age Flash #123 at Borders?).

But Borders was a great bookstore. They made it possible for people to walk into a store with money (or credit cards) and walk out with books. Making it easier for people to buy books is always a good thing. Also, Borders enabled kids to discover the allure of comics--and then, when they were hooked, we did everything we could to make sure those kids could find us.

I shopped at Borders. When they were in their prime, I preferred their selection to Barnes and Noble; they seemed more diversified, and maintained a larger number of titles in inventory (in the Marietta area, at least--can't say if it's true everywhere).

But most importantly, they employed a lot of people. They pumped money into the local economy. I know that we had customers who worked their as cashiers, as inventory stockists, as media specialists... and now those customers are out of work. That's not a good thing for any of us.

I know that many people buy books online, and many others buy ebooks. None of those do much to put Marietta people to work. None of those do much to excite young readers (and would-be readers) about the wonders of books. A bookstore does that, and much more. It helps to build a community of readership, and it helps to develop a dedicated clientele that supports that bookstore and its staff.

That's not to say that I liked everything that Borders did. One of the most grievous of all Borders sins (and I blame Barnes and Noble for this as well) is that they convinced many that bookstore was just a library where readers could go in, manhandle the merchandise, read the books without paying for them, and leave. I blame Borders for the eventual collapse of a large part of the manga market, because they convinced manga readers that no one should ever have to pay to read manga--they should just go into a store, grab the book they want, then sit down in the floor and start reading, bending the pages back and mauling the book in the process. Borders could do this, of course, because they paid nothing for damaged merchandise--they just returned it and took full credit. But they devalued the books in the minds of their readership, and that was devastating.

But that notwithstanding, I think the bookstore market was better with Borders than without it. And I'm not convinced that the collapse of Borders will do anything to help assure that Barnes and Noble will survive--they have their own business demons to exorcise. And should Barnes and Noble fail as well... let's just say that it will be a dire day for the bookstore market indeed. The big-box bookstores largely destroyed the independent bookstore market, and I don't think that there's anything that will bring that market back to health. I think that this is the latest bit of bad news for a business that I love, and I lament Borders' passing.

1 comment:

Jean in Georgia said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your statements about allowing the merchandise to be manhandled and put back. It infuriates me to walk into the B&N and see people sitting at the tables with their cup o' Starbucks, reading all the magazines on the racks and putting them back without any intention of buying. I swear I've also seen kids there doing research -- wasn't that why God created libraries???