Borders Crossing Into The Hereafter
Tellingly, while she continues to buy paper books (primarily from Barnes & Noble and Amazon), I can't recall the last time she has purchased anything other than digital music. But all indications are that e-books are finally hitting their stride, too.
"The news exposed a deep fear among publishers that bookstores would go the way of the record store, leaving potential customers without the chance to stumble upon a book and make an impulse purchase," write Michael J. De La Merced and Julie Bosman in the New York Times. "Publishers have worried that without a specific place to browse for books, consumers could turn to one of the many other forms of entertainment available and leave books behind."
Borders president Mike Edwards concluded a six-paragraph letter announcing the developments to employees with "you've done me proud." Earlier, he explained: "We were all working hard towards a different outcome, but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, e-reader revolution and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now."
Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Feb. 16. An offer by Najafi Cos. that creditors rejected last week has apparently left the 399 remaining outlets and the online operation without any viable takers. Liquidation, through a group led by Hilco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers Group, could begin as early as Friday although there are some (low) legal hurdles to jump.
The development has wider implications than the loss of the retail outlets, which not very long ago numbered upwards of a thousand.
"Thousands of people whose job consisted of talking up and selling books will eventually be doing something else, and that's bad for authors, agents, and everyone associated with the value chain in books," Simba Information senior analyst Michael Norris tells the Wall Street Journal's Mike Spector and Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg.
Edwards was apparently left holding a hand dealt to his predecessors.
"I am a PROUD BORDERS GM, and knew eventually this would happen," writes Glenn Stewart of Worcester, Mass., in a comment to Publisher's Weekly's brief about the closing. "Before joining the company there were too many CEO's with different visions. I DO NOT BLAME MIKE EDWARDS, I APPLAUD HIS EFFORTS FOR FIGHTING FOR THE COMPANY'S LIFE LIKE A SCREEMING BANCHIE."
According to his LinkedIn profile, Edwards is a "28-year retail veteran who has led brand transformations and business turnarounds for some of the leading names in the industry." He joined Borders Group in September 2009 as EVP, chief merchandising officer, and was appointed president and CEO of Borders, Inc. and president of Borders Groupin June 2010." Previously, he was chairman of Muttropolis -- which "does not sell pets, [but] delights shoppers with the community feel of a friendly dog park and a personalized opportunity to pamper their furry friends" -- for three years.
The first Borders was an 800-square-foot shop started in 1971 in Ann Arbor, Mich., by brothers Louis and Tom Borders. Its megastore empire was still expanding even as it was losing its "edge with consumers" as they shopped more online, Greta Guest points out in the Detroit Free Press. In response, it "started stocking more gifts, candy and impulse items. It also bought Paperchase stationery, stocking it in stores when e-mail had made handwritten letters a dying art."
An Ann Arbor councilwoman who once bought 14th-century music from knowledgeable staff at her local store tells Guest that the end was long in coming. "I'm devastated," says Sabra Briere, "but I was devastated ... years ago. People cheapened what Borders had to offer, and when it wasn't as splendid as it used to be, that became a reason not to shop there as much."
Sadly -- I initially typed "ironically" but that's really not the right word here -- I received an email offer this morning that contains the following teaser: For just $20, upgrade today to Borders Rewards Plus and get $10 in Borders Bonus Bucks redeemable 8/18/11 - 8/24/11. How's that for an offer I can easily refuse?
I was intrigued by one of the titles offered in the email: Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, which was offered at $13.78, or 47% off the list price, plus free shipping if I signed up for a 30-day free trial of its ShopRunner program. Sounds like a pretty good deal, no?
But when I put the title into Google, what came up first? Exactly what we all expect: Amazon, where the price is $13.00 and two-day shipping is also free with Prime membership. Borders, by the way, wasn't even in the top 20 Google hits, suggesting some poor SEO on the part of its online division.
In short, Borders has long reminded me of the diminutive kid who works out religiously, eats all the right things and lives and breathes his chosen sport but always comes up short compared to the seemingly effortless achievements of his naturally gifted teammates. Too bad, because I definitely identify with that diminutive kid.