So Borders is done. The nation’s second largest book retailer begins going out of business on July 22. It’s a sad time. And then again, it isn’t, particularly.
My sadness and regret are reserved for Borders’ 11,000 employees. In an economy like ours, losing your job is hardly a small matter. I wish each of them well and am sorry they were undone by management that, in the words of one newspaper, “lost a battle with competitors, with technology and with itself.” As for the demise of Borders, however, I shed no tears nor do I bemoan what this means for the state of literacy, publishing or reading in our nation.
Borders was, at least in its last decade, a bookstore chain that dumbed itself down. Its cavernous display spaces were increasingly given over to books of the least import, to calendars, to gifts, to toys, to a handful of bestsellers. Its stock — once a literate browser’s delight — became smaller and vapid. When e-books came along, Borders was among the last and least to get involved. And throughout it all, too many of the company stores maintained a management attitude compounded of ignorance, arrogance and ineptitude. Borders is now disappearing? That’s neither a surprise or a disappointment to me. Last one out be sure to turn off the lights.
Where there are losers, there will be winners. And this just may be a wonderful opportunity for those gutty independent bookstores that have held on over the last 20 years in the face of the big-box stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble with all the economic advantages publishers lavished on them. Maybe those same publishers will reawaken to the independents; if so, some of those good Borders employees may be able to find some worthy new jobs. I know from personal experience that a few publishers desperately urged the Center for the Book to use Borders for our book sales at author events, at the expense of independents — even though Borders repeatedly proved either disinterested or unwilling to cooperate with us. That’s ok, too; we like independents.
So, if you’ve got one of those Borders gift cards, here’s some advice: better use it fast. The stores could be closed in less than two months. And while you’re in Borders, say something nice to those employees; they didn’t deserve this. And then go buy a book somewhere. And think of what could have been.