So long, Borders


According to PW, Borders has suspended payments to some publishers.

At this point it looks as though Borders has no way to avoid bankruptcy, and the big question is whether they will take a bunch of publishers down with them. Small presses are especially vulnerable here, and Borders has been very hard on the whole small press scene for years, using credit from returns to order books on a much faster schedule than they actually paid for books sold.

As for Borders itself, it was once a great place to buy books–the staff were knowledgeable and the selection excellent, and while Joshua Bilmes offers a clear narrative of Borders’s descent into crappiness (quick warning about that link: very interesting), he doesn’t mention that the stores tried to control sky-rocketing rents by locking in long-term leases… right before the economy collapsed. Now their expenses are high and the revenues are low, and who’s going to suffer?

Well, authors for one. And publishers for another. Readers, too, because if we have one major chain store, as Joshua Bilmes points out, there will be certain books that readers won’t even get to see. Months and months ago, James Nicoll asked who was the most powerful but unrecognized person in sf/f, and the answer was the sf/f buyer at B&N. Without Borders, his decisions will sustain or destroy even more writers’ careers.

Hey, I know people like to see this stuff as the “Death of Traditional Publishing.” Isn’t B&N also closing stores (in high-rent areas, during a strained economic recovery)? But that’s just not the case here. Borders has been struggling for years, mainly because their upper echelons have no idea that selling books isn’t like selling other products. The economic crash simply exposed these long-term problems.

What does that mean for you? Well, if Borders isn’t paying publishers for the books they sell, you might want to stop shopping there. I know I will.