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.

10 Responses to Pre-mortem

  1. I actually go to Borders much more often than B&N, but maybe that’s just out of habit or something. There are at least two locations pretty close to where I live and work, not counting Waldenbooks in malls. I get coupons as part of their rewards program, so that’s nice, and I’ve gotten some deals in points that let me get some good savings. So yeah, I’ll definitely be feeling the loss, since that’s where I usually end up buying what manga I do purchase (which is definitely less than I used to, but still, it’s some). Eh, I can always switch to B&N, or just use Amazon. Or actually order stuff from the comics store. But I guess I better spend the gift cards I’ve been sitting on…

  2. Gene Ha says:

    Borders faces the same problem crippling many of the newspapers. They could be profitable, but previous management blew their cash reserves on a stock buyback. That temporarily raised stock prices. But now they have no money.

  3. Katherine Dacey says:

    I don’t think it will have much of an impact on my spending habits. Though there are several well-stocked Borders in my area, I generally visit a local comic book store when I’m in the mood to browse or want to pick up a brand new release. I just don’t find Borders a very pleasant shopping experience. I hate climbing over teen browsers to find the books I want, and I’ve never been able to take advantage of their Rewards program.

    For older titles, I’ll visit the library or search eBay for deals; for newer series, I’ll use Amazon or Tower. (Thanks for the tip, John Jakala! I was impressed by the deep discounts!)

  4. Dave White says:

    I do feel bad about Borders fading fast, partly because I’ve had a lot of good times at various Borders over the years, and partly because I have a buddy who manages that weird-ass Borders in the South Hills. Barnes and Noble likewise has a bad habit of never ordering anything I actually want to read. I have a feeling I’ll be moving most of my manga buying online, or seeing how extensively my LCS can pick up the slack.

  5. David Welsh says:

    That South Hills Borders is weird, isn’t it? Great selection, but I’ve never seen a structure that looked less like it should be a bookstore.

    And the B&N across the street has one of the most incongruously terrible graphic novel selections I’ve ever seen at any of their outposts. Maybe they just abdicated the niche to Borders?

  6. Chloe says:

    I’m going to put on my economy hat here and theorize that reports of imminent demise are likely premature. Yes, they are cutting the DVD and CD sections, given the enormous backlog of what they carry and the fact that slow sales are bleeding money in that department, and yes, they are indeed a bit up a creek (enough so that distributors are warning suppliers to Borders about bankruptcy liabilities) however I think they have enough in them to peter along for a bit before biting the dust.
    They do need an overhaul though, and the CFO’s up and moving out in January isn’t particularly auspicious. Whatever happened to that concept store in Michigan?

  7. I have a bunch of Borders near me, and I can confirm their stock is thinning. After using their repeated 40% off coupons (to me a sign they’re in trouble–I just got another one for 30% this week) to pick up the Absolute Sandman trades (I know I shouldn’t encourage large expensive hardcovers, but God Damn those things are nice), they didn’t bother to restock them.

    Ditto for the hardcover classics I got, too. Want Fagles’ Aneid? You’ll have to look elsewhere now.

    As far as it goes, I only use big box stores when they have sales or I have time to kill and grab an impulse purchase. Too many local used stores that carry comics and manga for me to be dropping $$$ on new stuff. If I want to do that, I do it at the comic store.

    Plus, if I am going to go all “corporate”, Amazon is way cheaper.

    I will miss Borders, if they go, as it was my first “big” bookstore. But honestly, it won’t harm me beyond my general “oh shit no one has jobs” feeling about, well, everything right now. 😦

  8. Oh, and are you guys talking about the South Hills *Pittsburgh* Borders? Cause that would be kinda funny, since that’s my primary Borders…

  9. davidpwelsh says:

    That’s the one, Rob. I live in northern West Virginia, so that was my primary Borders as well.

  10. Keath says:

    I’ve long preferred Borders, but the reason for doing so was simply that the closest Borders had much a better selection than the closest Barnes & Noble. Since then I’ve moved and now the closest Barnes & Noble has the better selection. They’ve become interchangable to me.

    I do 99% of my buying on now – thanks to Amazon Prime I get the books quickly and I find myself spending wiser by doing much less impulse buying. If I want to “flip through” a title to see if I like it, the internet usually provides (legal or otherwise) excerpts online.

    And yeah, most malls are kinda skeezy now.

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