The fall of a wobbly titan

Yes, a titan – a wheezing, aged, crumbling titan, to be sure, but still a big kahuna.  I’m late to the party on this topic but that never stopped me before.

So … what does it mean that Borders is closing its doors forever?

Everything.  Nothing.  Both at the same time.

Allow me to explain.

(Muse:  Please do, lest we grow even more bored.)

In a sense, I am saddened to see such a major book store close.  I’ve said, ad infiitum, that anything that gets people reading is a good thing.  In an age of ubiquitous iPods and Nintendo DSs, it always does my heart good to see young people with a book, even with the Kindle/iPad version.  I believe nothing encourages a youngster to engage in reading as going to a store and physically picking up a book.  Yeah, they can read electronically – but that’s ephemeral, like everything else they read online.  Having the words in one’s hands really make them more powerful, and harder to ignore.  And in order to do that, they have to have the chance.

The mom-n-pop bookstores (save for isolated specialty shops) have dried up.  The mini-chains Waldenbooks and B. Dalton’s are gone, or all but.  The big players were all that was left for the brick and mortar stores.  So yes, it is distressing to see one of the chains go down.  This leaves Barnes & Noble.  That’s it?  I love B&N but I like having a second option.  I guess Books-a-Million is a distant second.  I forsee a future where there are not only no bookstores, but no books, where everything written exists only in the shine of reflected e-reader screen.  That … seems disturbing.

On the other hand ….

You know, this is just a triumph of reality over wishful thinking.  The rise of e-retailers (the mammoth Amazon and others) was a death-knell for traditional book sellers.  You can see a parallel in the music industry; it’s almost all digital now.  Any further expansion of broadband capability will put the last nail in the DVD industry’s coffin.    People – myself included – were predicting this over a decade ago.  So what did Borders do?

Pretty much nothing.

They kept a steady course.  Yeah, they opened an online site but seriously….  The online market is fast-moving and a company has to be flexible and adaptive to keep up.  Borders was none of these things.  B&N made some aggressive adjustments online and marketed their own e-reader.  They’re hanging on.  Barely.

Look, I sympathize with the closings of the chain but this is in inevitable result of mismanagement and poor planning.  It is hard for me to feel too bad for them – after all, the chain bookstores displaced the mom and pop stores, and the mega chains displaced the smaller ones.  Now, the mega chains are feeling the pinch from online shopping.  What will come along to displace the online vendors?  I don’t know either …. but the one who figures it out will be filthy rich.

There is a Borders less than a mile from me.  I’ve been a quite a few times.  It’s a nice store, staffed with pleasant employees.  The Seattle’s Best in the back was always crowded with book-lovers enjoying a cup and cruller as they banged away on their laptops or snuggled into their big chairs with a text.  But it never really felt like a bookstore.  Too open, too brightly lit.  Muzak wove through the aisles, seeking out your eardrums, no matter where you hid.  Too much space given to music and movies (I like to keep my vices separate).  Seattle’s Best tasted like ground goat fetus.  (Yeah, I KNOW they were bought by Starbucks, it doesn’t matter, they taste different!  Either that, or at this local branch, they were all peeing in the brew.  Either way, it sucked.  But I digress.)  Point is, I never felt as much like I was in a bookstore in Borders as I did in B&N, or in smaller independent stores.

As you can say, it means everything but at the same time, means nothing.

That Borders neaby?  I keep my fingers crossed that Barnes and Noble moves in, and not some crap store like Pottery Barn.  If I want faux far-east imports manufactured in Mexico, I can just order them from online.

Wait ….


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