Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another Friend Has Gone: A Goodbye to Borders

Article first published as Another Friend Has Gone: A Goodbye to Borders on Blogcritics.

I still appreciate an old-fashioned bookstore. Borders is leaving us, and I wonder who is next. I've also wondered why.
In an e-letter sent to Borders Rewards members, the CEO graciously acknowledged that the e-book revolution had contributed a death blow to the company which, like most others, was already swimming against the current of a relentless weak economy. Avid readers won't be surprised at the explanation. Most, in fact, could probably see it coming.

Story time at BordersOne of the best jobs I ever had was working in customer service at an old-style bookstore which was based in Dallas, Taylors Books. Taylors had about ten locations in the Dallas area, and they had an admirable, though ultimately deadly, philosophy about bookselling.

Mike Taylor, the son who ran the company during the brief period I worked there in the early 90's, said it best, "We believe in the full-price value of the books we sell. We are not like other companies who focus on bestsellers and are not able to find the books on the shelf when they need them. We want the books to be there, and we want our employees to be experts in our customers need."

The internet was a pipe dream in those days, and few people would have imagined the way it would change commerce the way it has. Borders had not yet moved to town in 1990, and Barnes and Noble was known to us as the huge distribution company who supplied us with microfiche so that we could order items we did not have on the shelf. For heavy readers, Taylors was really the only game in town.

Borders storefront in Arlington, TexasThen, Borders, along with Barnes and Noble, began dotting the map of the Dallas-Fort Worth marketplace. And they offered customers a place to sit, to have coffee, and to read before they bought. Old Taylors customers will remember that there were no chairs, and certainly no coffee. This was a part of the Taylors culture. I don't think Mr. Taylor cared whether or not we could brew a nice cappuccino. It was always about the books.

It didn't take too many grand openings of the Borders stores to knock Taylors down to a couple of strategic locations. Mr. Taylor also tried his hand at offering the public a technical bookstore, which seemed like a great idea, but have you ever seen the prices on those things? They were expensive to keep on the shelf, and the idea was a flop.

As Borders joins Taylors in the time capsule, I can't help but wonder who's next? Do any of the storefront bookseller chains still have a fighting chance? Is there a business model that will work? Those of us who like to hold the books in our hands really want to know.

I will keep trying to find as much as I can at Half Price Books, and I still own a library card in my hometown, but I have also migrated a bit to the Kindle. It's not the same. It's okay. It's tolerable. But, the feel, the smell, the presentation, the whole experience of reading, is just not as enjoyable as it used to be.

I miss my old friends, but I've always been able to find new ones after it became necessary. And, I'll do it again. There are just too many great things still to read.

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