Pub Rants

Implications Beyond The Obvious

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STATUS: Hey, I’m not blogging after 10 o’clock at night. This means it’s a good day!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TIN MAN by America

I read this article with dread. Despite how one might personally feel about buying from chain bookstores versus supporting independents (and that’s a whole separate debate I don’t plan to get into with this entry), Borders possibly going out of business is not good news.

Why? Because the general public doesn’t know that the decision about buying books for the chains, which ones, and in what quantities, is in the hands of a very few people who wield significant amounts of power. B&N has A non-genre fiction buyer. Yes, you read that correctly. A decision to carry a book (or not) by that one person can make or break a book.

If Borders is taken out of the mix (or bought by B&N), the decision-making powers about what books will be featured or given shelf space in the store at all will have just consolidated yet again.
This is not good news.

There have been many instances of Borders supporting a book that B&N hasn’t and that making all the difference (vice versa is also true as I’ve seen B&N support a book that Borders took forever to get on board with –Carter’s I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU comes to mind). A Borders closing is particular hurtful news for genre fiction as things like romance and SF&F are often more supported at the Borders store and bought in greater numbers by readers through that outlet.

If Borders goes, so do their buyers. And with the ringing death knells of so many independent stores in the news lately, the future isn’t looking bright—as the independents, as a collective force, could create a balance to this.

So lots of implications beyond the obvious.

30 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    That’s very sad. I comparison shop both of the big ones. Sometimes one has something the other doesn’t. I can’t remember the last independent I’ve seen, and Waldenbooks is nearly gone. B&N is taking over the world. Soon we’ll be querying their buyer rather than agents or publishers, and she’ll be telling the publishers what to print.

  2. Kristin said:

    It’s called Amazon.

    That is the future. Buying off the internet. Because there will be so few brick-and-mortar bookstores, readers will be forced to go online to find the books they are looking for. And then eventually those customers just won’t ever go back to the bookstore, because they know for sure they can find what they want online.

    Not good.

    However, there is still Target & Wal-Mart who sell books in large quantities. And from what I understand Wal-Mart usually sells more copies of books than the big bookstores.

    We still have a small, independent bookstore in my small town. She actually has a pretty good selection. I’ll have to make sure to visit her more often!

  3. Lyle said:

    My understanding, though, is that big stores like WM & Target sell at such discounts the authors see very little of those sales (correct me if I’m wrong?).

    There ARE independent booksellers on the net – some of them even sell through Amazon’s marketplace. Perhaps the future can shift their way if we nudge it.

  4. Anonymous said:

    From what my editor at Random House tells me (unless she’s lying to make me feel better because my book isn’t carried in Walmart), the bulk of sales are, and have always been, from B&N. Also, authors get the same percentage for each book whether they’re discounted or not. It’s the publishers who get less, not the authors.

  5. pjd said:

    I wonder if your concern about the number of buyers would be a consideration in any anti-trust negotiations should BN decide to buy Borders.

    This is very interesting, particularly given the library a-go-go being tested now.

    Perhaps in the future, instead of bookstores differentiating themselves by including cafes, we will see cafes differentiating themselves as independent booksellers. Perhaps each specializing in a certain genre.

  6. Anonymous said:

    Nooooo! My local Walbenbooks just closed down because of B&N and with my publisher prodominently being shelved in Borders and Waldenbooks (Smahain Publishing)having B&N buy out Borders will SUCK!

    This is a sad, sad bit of information.

  7. Angela James said:

    The previous poster kind of said what I’m going to: Borders closing and the romance buyer there going would be a devastating blow to small press publishing, which Barnes and Noble has historically not been supportive of.

  8. Joe said:

    This is disastrous! Not only do I write fantasy and buy exclusively from Borders for the last five years, but I’m part of a weekly board game meetup at Borders every Monday. If they go out of business, that would suck!

  9. Gabrielle said:

    I agree that Borders going out would be a really bad thing, but I’m not too worried about the book lovers disappearing. As much as the stats look horrible or the news seems depressing, people have loved stories since the inception of humanity. Before books there were scrolls, before scrolls there were oral storytelling, right? It’s innate human nature.

    I know I will always love books, and I know there are thousands of others who will do the same: people like fellow readers here or the nerdy teens at the library or middle-aged lawyers looking for a romance. We’re not going anywhere, no matter whether Borders sinks or the ultra iPod is invented. 😀

  10. Ghost Girl said:

    Yes, my stomach tightened when I read that on PW today. I’m writing historical fantasy–quite a different niche. It’s bad enough my favorite independent went under 2 years ago…

    God help us!

  11. Lisa said:

    To further the concern, the owner of an Independent that agreed to stock my book said he believes that children today won’t even want to read an actual book when they are adults. He said that studies have shown that pre-teens and younger prefer to read online!
    For me, nothing beats holding the book in my hands.

  12. Krissie G said:

    Wow, Lisa, now we can cycle back to the conversation/argument from last week about ebooks.


    Preteens & young adults will be snapping up those e-readers. Trust me.

    Maybe it’s sacrilege, but I HATE holding books, turning pages, folding down corners, needing bookmarks. I read in bed and nothing is more uncomfortable and trying to hold a hardback book sideways on the bed for an hour. Plus, who hasn’t suffered through reading a book that has wording almost hidden in the middle crease? Or font size that was really too small?

    I don’t see what is so darn terrible about e-readers and e-books becoming more popular. It really changes how the market works.

    Just look at iTunes vs. ‘record’ stores. It’s the same thing. Everyone is downloading music, not buying it in a music store. Why people think books aren’t headed in the same direction is beyond me.

  13. karen wester newton said:

    Whoa! The narrow gate might get even narrower! As publishing houses compress into mere imprints of the same mega-publisher, there are fewer and fewer editors to go to; and now even if you find an editor, the editor will have one fewer set of shelves.

    I am starting to feel a little like the folks on Easter Island must have felt before the end… “Hey, Umqua, didn’t there used to be more trees and stuff?”

  14. Lisa said:

    Krissie G
    The Independent Book Store Owner was saying that we’re shifting.
    I prefer reading a book, make me sad if books and books stores are no more.
    It’s nice to go to the bookstore, look around at what’s on display in the center isles, grab a cup of coffee from starbucks and relax.
    It is interesting reading your view.

  15. linda said:

    Folks have pointed to Target and Walmart as other outlets for books. The selection at these shops is minimal: bestsellers, tv tie-ins, etc. The death of Borders means that there will be one major corporation deciding which books the majority of Americans will know about. Good-bye small presses. Good-bye midlist. Good-bye quiet novels and simple stories.

    Electronic media make make it less expensive to publish for smaller markets and there will certainly develop new ways for people to hear about good books — but in the short term, this is disaster. And I’m afraid it will have a long-lasting effect.

  16. beth said:

    This is…disheartening. Truly. Even more so now that you showed us more of the inside workings of it. I wonder…with the rise of internet book selling and the (partial?) decline of big business book stores…does that mean independent book stores may rise too, for the browser-buyers? Smaller stores need smaller space and have smaller rent…smaller selection, too, but that may be OK if the bigger bookstores go and readers still want the physical experience.

  17. bookfraud said:

    it would be sad if borders is swallowed up by b&n, but downright scary if pershing square takes it private. they will do anything and everything to squeeze every last penny out of borders before taking it public again. any semblance of variety will be thrown out the door…

  18. nobloggeraccountyet said:

    It’s sad to lose bookstores, chain or independent. There must be some local buyers who help with stocking the shelves in the local stores, though. I’ve read on other blogs that Borders had a better selection than B&N. My local B&N is great – large selections of each genre, but the nearest Borders has low shelving with skimpy selection.

    Both often don’t have books I’m looking for, though.

    Thank goodness for Powells! One independent that isn’t going away any time soon.


  19. Patrick McNamara said:

    In Canada there’s been only one major brick & mortar seller for years; Chapters. They control about 90% of the market, so if you want to sell your book in Canada you have to get into their stores. They’re single-handedly killing the Canadian publishing industry by waiting a year to pay the publishers then cheating them on the pay.

  20. Anonymous said:

    I’m sure KN is not looking for any accolades from anyone, but nice post — all the things I complain about her usual posts are absent here. There ‘s an interesting topic, some professional insight, and no high-five-me for how fantastically busy I am. Thus, no a-kissing comments, no slammers, no dastardly do-ers. Bravo.


  21. Anonymous said:

    Fictionwise is said to pay late & slow, too. So cheating isn’t limited to brick & mortar bookstores.

  22. Anonymous said:

    I don’t think we’ll run out of brick & mortar bookstores, but they may all end up being B&N, which would be sad. I have a B&N, a Borders, and a Joseph Beth all within less than 5 miles from my house… I frequent them all equally, based on the surrounding stores and what I may need at the time. I can’t say I’ve noticed a huge difference in the books selected for each, but apparently, there must be differences I wasn’t aware of. I guess this has opened my eyes a little.

  23. Anonymous said:

    Frankly, this doesn’t surprise me a bit, if all Borders stores are run the way the one near me is.

    You walk into the romance section and there are EMPTY shelves staring you in the face. There is no rhyme nor reason to the way the few books that are there are shelved, and if you ask an employee…. wait, I mean, if you can FIND an employee, since no one walks the floor or stands behind a customer service desk… they give you the stink eye for suggesting that there is a difference between one romance novel and another. Why not just take whatever you find? It’s all toilet paper, right? ::rolls eyes::

    They don’t let authors sign stock, and if an author has a set up signing, they hide him or her in the very back corner of the store and hope that people will find her back there because they announce once or twice over the intercom that she’s signing. I spent tenminutes wandering around the store after hearing the announcement before I actually found what corner they’d shoved her into.

    A few years back, they had a wonderful, vibrant YA section right next door to the manga section right next store to the sci fi section. You’d constantly see kids in there, reading the manga, shopping the YA shelves, etc. They even had it right next to the customer service kiosk. Then the employees used to stand back at the kiosk and make loud fun of anyone who dared shop those shelves (I saw them run off a school librarian by asking her what kind of grown woman was reading novels for teenagers), and then the manga shelf was gone altogether, and they shuffled off YA into two measely, poorly stocked shelves hidden in between diet and self-help, and WAY far away from all the other fiction.

    And then they wonder why they aren’t doing well?

  24. Merry Monteleone said:

    anon 5:07,

    I think we’ve all seen examples like this of larger chain stores, depending on how they’re run. In a mall near me we have a Borders on one side of the street and a B&N right across, the Borders is really well maintained with dead helpful staff while the B&N is impossible, books are actually stacked in mishmoshed piles on the floor all over the place – the B&N is frequented by the high school students who hang out and really don’t buy anything – the Borders isn’t… I think it just depends on the store manager in some of those situations…

  25. Dave Shaw said:

    I’ve never seen a Borders. The big stores here are B&N (2 of them in town) and Books-a-Million. There used to be 3 malls, each with a Waldenbooks, one with a B. Dalton’s; now there’s 1 mall, Dalton’s is gone, and the Waldenbooks turned into a Borders Express, which on my single visit didn’t impress me at all (not finding an SF&F section is a real turnoff for me). The B&Ns are fancy and there’s enough competition that they do a decent job, but the best selection, best prices, and friendliest clerks are at BAM, for whatever that’s worth.

  26. Natalie Damschroder said:

    Beth, I was wondering the same thing about the possible re-rise of independents. It seems unlikely, but who knows? Lots of things are cyclical.

    Lisa, I keep hearing people say preteens and kids will want to read online, and I don’t see any evidence of that. They are taught with real books, and mine have never wanted to read an e-book, no matter how I tried to encourage them to. Individual books are portable–I can’t afford $800 to buy them Kindles they’ll probably lose or break. I do think e-books will continue to rise in popularity, but they won’t kill regular books.

    People who love books will always find ways to get them, and the dozens (hundreds?) of online publishers who do paperbacks as well as e-books will help keep the variety alive. But authors depend on mass sales to survive financially, and consolidation will harm that.

  27. Anonymous said:

    Our Borders is wonderful about getting my books to the public, compared to B&N who’s abysmal to work with. I was extremely sad to hear the news and I dread the day B&N is the main big chain.

  28. Elsa said:

    As a Borders bookseller, and incidentally one that happens to be pretty informed, I can tell you that we’re not going anywhere for a good long while.

    We’re running low on funds and looking for a buyer, true, but that doesn’t mean we’re going out of business. We might have to take a beating in a few ares, but we’re not going gently into the good night. That would be especially silly of us, as we’re currently opening at least three new stores right now, just in the US, some of them these new nifty concept stores.

    Really, don’t worry about us disappearing. The media’s got it hugely overblown. Also, whoever said Barnes might buy us was smoking something. They’d want us to lower our price to an insulting level, and there’s too much overlap between districts. Probably not gonna happen. I can’t claim to know everything, but there’s been no indication we’ll vanish.