Pre-mortem

March 25, 2009

Over at The Beat, Heidi MacDonald reports the latest rumors of Borders’ imminent demise, which has been imminent for, what, a year now? She asks readers to ponder a world without the big-box bookseller.

For me as a consumer, the impact would be minimal. As I think I’ve said, the closest proper Borders brick-and-mortar is over an hour’s drive away, and while I always enjoy shopping there, I never rely on it for things I simply must have. It’s an impulse-buy setting. And while this is purely anecdotal, every time I’ve headed out to a Borders, wherever I happen to be, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t pass at least one Barnes & Noble on the way.

Is Barnes & Noble better in terms of selection? No, certainly not when compared to Borders at its peak. (I haven’t been to a Borders lately, so I can neither confirm nor contradict reports that the chain’s stock is thinning.) But I don’t think I’ve ever ordered from Borders online, partly because I didn’t see any need to go through the extra layer when they were partnered with Amazon, so I never got in the habit or came to consider it as a worthwhile online vendor like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And I always found Borders’ discount program, reliant on the accumulation of points and narrow window to redeem rewards, inferior to Barnes & Noble’s, which is a flat discount with lots of coupons.

(At this point, I should probably mention something about WaldenBooks, but I haven’t been to the mall in about a year since I got new tires at Sears, so that’s no loss either. Are all malls kind of seedy and dilapidated at this point, or is it just the ones I’ve been to in the last two years or so?)

I hope it’s not just smart people who’ve developed an alternative strategy to Borders, because this has been a long time coming, and it may yet be a longer time coming. I swear I remember people talking about this in 2007, but maybe my memory is exaggerating. If anyone should be prepared, it’s Barnes & Noble, who should be poised to fill any market gaps Borders may leave behind. There were rumors that Barnes & Noble was actually considering buying Borders at one point, so if anyone is aware of the seriousness of Borders’ situation…

As for publishers, I never think it’s a good idea for them to be too dependent on one distribution outlet (cough… Diamond… cough). And the publishers I buy from most regularly generally aren’t dependent on one distribution outlet, so…

I would feel badly for anyone employed by Borders, obviously. But as a book shopper, it would be a fairly marginal loss for me.