Monday, February 28, 2011

Borders Closing, Technology and and life as a Brick and Mortar owner

Recently there has been a lot of talk in the news about the demise of Borders Books.  Many have asked my opinion and all have been surprised by my response.  They have assumed I would be doing cartwheels that the big bad box store was closing it doors.  Exactly the opposite of that is true.  I sit here with a hard, cold knot of fear in my stomach.  Not fear for myself nor my business but fear of the unknown for the rapidly changing book industry.   As well as some thoughts on things I can consider doing to bring my store into this world of technology. 

As a business owner (and the owner of my brick and mortar building) my thoughts are filled with the publishers and banks that will not be paid, wondering what this means for authors and their royalties and for bookstores continuing to do business daily with these  publishers and banks.  I think of the people that are now without jobs and landlords faced with broken leases and empty buildings.  I think of the communities where these stores had pushed out the small independent bookstores and how these towns and neighborhoods are now faced with not having a bookstore.
It is no secret that I believe strongly in supporting local businesses and  that I am a founding member of Dillon's buy local campaign, a group of individuals and businesses that promote shopping and supporting the locally owned and managed businesses. You would think that I would be cheering at the thought of a chain store tumbling but I am not.  I see the bigger picture as I think of other industries facing these same challenges.  Music stores and video stores also deal with the competition of box stores, online sellers and the downloading technology.  But when a business as large as Borders files bankruptcy there will be a ripple effect and one just hopes it doesn't turn into a tsunomi.

As I sit here this morning I am contemplating the changes that I have witnessed in the book industry in the 20 years that I have been privilaged to call myself a bookseller.  I remember  trying to decide about audio books and wondering if people would want to be read to and not actually be holding a book.  I have to laugh as I recall agonizing on whether to start carrying books on CD and phasing out the cassettes. Well, Baby we have come a long way since I was the new kid on the block.

My head spins as I think of the rapidly advancing technology.  Wondering if I will be left behind in the dust and buried under pieces of discarded plastic and batteries as people lay aside the latest contraption in search of the newest, shiniest, fastest device available. I see people texting while in restaurants, accessing the internet, checking their email and facebook accounts and I have to wonder why they can't just set aside this time with friends for simple face to face conversation.  I really wonder if they may be texting each other across the table. In this drive thru society we seem to be losing our ability to communicate one on one.  We are in such a frantic search for instant gratification that I have to wonder where it will lead and what it will cost us on a personal level.

I still like to listen to vinyl records, I like the feel and smell of a real book when I read, when I walk my dog I prefer to listen to the sounds of the street and greeting people without having to remove an ear bud in order to hear their hellos.  I don't like waiting on customers that are talking on their cell phones,  listening to their Ipods or texting while expecting me to take care of them at the same time. (I actually had a woman "shush" me midsentence when she answered her cell phone and proceeded to discuss her friends party from the night before, I walked away and I did not win any customer service awards that day.)

The notion of e-books and how rapidly they are infiltrating our lives has left me astounded.  On one hand I see how exciting this technolgy is but on the other I know that for myself I will always prefer to curl  up with a book.  I think there is room in this world for both. 

I have to wonder how long it will be before someone like me will be on display at the Smithsonian next to the dinosaurs.  Will I be sitting behind glass in a rocking chair, with a tea pot covered with a cosy, wearing very thick reading glasses as I hold a book? Will I  be part of a field trip where the students  stare in awe and ask what is that?


  1. Interesting musings Debbie. I guess I am one of those old dinosaurs who remains suspicious of technology. I love the fact that my books are smelly and tactile and safely ensconced in my huge library where I can find them at any time. But there is a tempting appeal about e-books: those e-readers are small and light. My old hands hurt sometimes when I have to hold a fat book (while simultaneously, is there any greater pleasure? lol). I don't know what to do about that. I do not want an electronic book for any other reason. Maybe you have a suggestion? Thank you for being my Book Goddess.

  2. Debbie --

    I resonate to what you say, and to be a financially interested party in such a rapidly changing industry has to be fear inducing.

    Yet, It could be a mistake to let the Borders bankruptcy reorganization make you start thinking about hanging crepe for the funeral.

    In the first place, Borders is probably not going away. They are in a reorganization, not a liquidation. Since they filed, a bank has loaned them some big bucks, about 5 million if I recall correctly, betting that the loan will be repaid, with interest.

    Another cheery note from your perspective is that Barnes & Noble, Borders principal competitor, is going like gangbusters. B&N made some smart business decisions while Borders sat on their hands.

    So I'm not really disagreeing with anything you wrote, Debbie, just pointing out that the problems of Borders may not signify for the health of The Book Store as much as you fear.

    Keep 'em readin', kid.

    ~ Paul Arnold