Always Be Closing: A Farewell To Borders

We here at Olivia Waite never worked at Borders—but we worked with plenty of other booksellers who had Borders on their résumés. And we still nourish perpetual gratitude for that time in high school when we found that Borders was the only game in town—even in bookish, nerdy Seattle—that had the complete Discworld series still in print on a regular basis. (Back before they started reprinting them, Pratchett paperbacks were hunted down like rare treasure in all manner of used bookstores by incredible nerds like me.) Any time any bookstore closes, readers and authors and booksellers mourn. On the one hand, the book business is a business, and the invisible hand of the market must do whatever it is the invisible hand of the market does. (Giving the middle class the invisible middle finger?) But while it's true that many of us are doing our best (writing, marketing, networking) to sell books and make a living at it, nobody comes into the book business thinking solely of profit. Except Jeff Bezos, maybe—but that's whole other can of blog-worthy worms.

Rachel Syme at NPR's Monkey See blog has a very illuminating post on how the Borders news is terrible news for the whole publishing industry:

Kathleen Schmidt, a book publicist, provided this perfectly concise explanation on Twitter: "Here is how the Borders closing will impact publishers: Say you have a bestselling author and you usually do a 1st printing of 100K books. Out of that 1st print of 100K, B&N/Amazon would take a large quantity, then Target, maybe Costco/BJs/Walmart, then Borders, then indies. If you're an author with a 1st print of 30K (a lot), you prob don't have price clubs or Target. You have B&N, Amazon, Borders, and indies. Now, take Borders OUT of that 1st print equation. Also consider that B&N is conservative with numbers these days. That 30K turns into 15K."

Read the rest.

I'm a digital author, a huge proponent of independent bookstores, and a lifelong fan of libraries—and I would be the first to tell you that Borders' physical stores have definitely declined in quality since my high school days haunting the stacks. They'd focused heavily on CDs (whoops) and nick-knacks (what?) until the stores came to have this strangely hollow feeling, even though they were ostensibly full of things. Book people are sensitive to the hollowness of a shelf—our own are usually crammed full to bursting and we become attuned to fillable space the way that sharks in the ocean are said to sense even a single drop of blood. A bookstore with empty shelves worries us on a fundamental level.

But Borders was good to the romance community—better than a lot of independents, better than Barnes and Noble—and there are many small towns out there whose only physical book outlet will disappear after this week. The tales of corporate mismanagement are equalled by tales of dedicated retail staff and support staff who organized readings, made connections within the industry, and generally kept up with the good work of spreading stories from one person to another.

Because that's the secret of the book business, the one we rarely talk about because it seems so painfully obvious: books are different than other objects. Books subvert their own thing-ness. Ask Umberto Eco, or Jasper Fforde, or J. K. Rowling. And when Borders disappears, a lot of stories will disappear with it.