Death of a Bookstore Chain

Borders closed 200 stores nationwide in February and announced last week that it’s going out of business for good. Market experts believe that Borders was unable to compete with cheaper online retailers and  electronic readers. We can see a parallel between the decline of the book industry and the decline of the newspaper industry.

E-readers are becoming very popular and some people wonder if bookstores will survive at all, or if they will suffer the same fate as video rental stores.

The Borders story began when Tom and Louis Borders, brothers who were students at the University of Michigan, established a book shop in Ann Arbor. Ironically, they invented the electronic software that revolutionized the way inventories were tracked, helping Borders become a book-selling giant.

The big boxes – Borders and Barnes & Noble  – with their volume-based capacity to discount, made big stores the mortal enemies of the “independent” smaller stores. Borders helped squash independent shops. Those intimate stores with their hand-picked books couldn’t compete with the larger selection and lower prices offered by bulk-buying chains.

The traditional line of publication ran from writer to editor to publicist to critic to merchandiser to clerk to customer. But, the larger the chains became, the more power they exercised over the whole publishing enterprise. Corporate buyers became influential players in what is published.

Then online ordering – via Amazon or the Barnes & Noble website – transformed the point of sale, and digital books, such as, Kindle, Nook, and iPad – are replacing paper publication. Borders failed to keep up with the online transition. The story sounds strangely familiar, doesn’t it?

The chains that overturned independents are now being replaced by cheaper online retailers and electronic readers .

Liquidation sales began last weekend. By September, every Borders store will be closed. Years of red ink and desperate efforts to find a buyer ended when the bankrupt bookseller announced that its 399 stores will be closed.

That will leave Barnes & Noble as the only major nationwide chain with actual bookstores.

In Nashville, Vanderbilt University will move its campus bookstore  in an agreement with Barnes & Noble that allows the national chain to manage it for the school. The university will lease the 27,000-square-foot former Borders bookstore that closed in May.

Barnes & Noble operates about 630 similar campus bookstores throughout the country. Georgia Tech’s bookstore in Atlanta has been managed by Barnes & Noble since 2001.

It is strange to feel unhappy about the end of giant chain store. But people fear that book culture will die along with bookstores and printed books that could be held, corners that could be turned down and margins that could be written in will become a thing of the past. Those who frequented the nooks and cafes of brick and mortar stores believe that book reading may change forever.

Vanderbilt plans to put in a cafe, and the university will explore book programs, author-signing events, and expanding evening and weekend hours at the new university store. Since a local favorite, Davis-Kidd Booksellers, closed and the Borders store shut its doors, book lovers hope to fill some of the void.

Like the future of newspapers, the future of printed books is uncertain. People will continue to read, but the way they read may become entirely different.

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