Thursday, June 12, 2008

Borders, swan song?

Speculations have been flying for the last year or so as to what would happen to Borders, whether they would be able to survive financially or be forced to sell themselves off.

Unfortunately, it looks like they might have to sell themselves off.
One potential buyer is, of course, Barnes and Noble. However, Border's major stockholder, William Ackerman of Pershing, is saying that Borders should approach Amazon for a buyout.

People are always surprised when I defend Borders. Many people consider Borders to be the same as Barnes and Noble. It's only within the last five years that Borders became very similar to Barnes and Noble in look as well as books chosen for their shelves; this was part of a decision to purposefully encroach on Barnes and Noble marketshare. It backfired for Borders with Borders losing their original customer base which was more sort of a young male geeky crowd (what does it say about me that I find myself more part of that demographic than others?).

I've always loved Borders' depth and range in Ancient Greek history and literature. Outside of a university store and online stores, they were the most reliable bookstore for this category. Additionally, their store on Park Avenue had an unusually large poetry section (had, I say, as that store is slated to be closed down). Also, they carried university press titles that Barnes and Nobles did not carry in the 90s. I remember going to a Barnes and Noble store in 1998 and trying to special order a university press title and being told that it was a service they didn't provide.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Borders. They were once a fascinating company, and the vestiges of their unique culture still remain in the older stores with deep backlist representation and wide variety of titles. I've bought Korean cookbooks there that are not available in other brick and mortar stores, philosophy titles, and many volumes of poetry in the Park Avenue store. In some ways, their stores complemented the independent bookstores as Borders often had large sections of categories that many independent bookstores do not. And of course, in other ways, Borders was another direct competitor to the independent bookstores in the categories that most trade bookstores cover (fiction, history, current affairs). It's a shame that Borders lost that commitment to books and decided to pursue greater profits in a change of mission that might cost them everything.

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