retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Salon.com had an interesting piece about “How Borders Lost Its Soul,” in which author Edward McClelland writes that “Borders ended up caught between the variety of the Internet and the intimacy of the independents. Its outlets could never stock as many books as Amazon. Nor could they duplicate the native flavor of the corner bookstores, with their local author readings and folk music nights.”

McClelland, who says that he was first enchanted by the whole idea of a super bookstore, says that he first became soured when small independents started getting put out of business. And then, there was what happened when he published his first book: “When I tried to schedule a signing at my neighborhood Borders, I experienced the difference between a bookseller and a corporation that sells books. As a first-time author, I quickly learned that Borders was not going to let me read when it could get Dennis Rodman or Rudy Giuliani instead. The store manager told me to fax a request to the regional events coordinator. I did so, emphasizing that I'd been shopping at Borders before Dan Brown had ever heard of the store. Borders never called back.”

The small bookstores that are surviving are those that have made themselves community institutions, he writes, suggesting that book co-ops may even be the answer in some cases. And, even with Borders disappearing, the independents will still have to face competition from the Kindle, the Nook and the iPad, not to mention Amazon. But as paper books become a niche product, niche retailers will be the best place to buy and sell them. Book lovers will always want a place to gather and hear recommendations from a bookseller who knows their reading habits, and their community. Borders belonged to an era when book retailing was a big enough business to monopolize. Now that there's no money in it anymore, we may have to go back to shopping for books in stores that let dogs wander through the stacks, and don't even serve coffee.”
KC's View:
Oddly, Borders found itself in a kind of muddy middle. It wasn’t designed that way, it wasn’t expected, and then the market moved and Borders found itself in an untenable position. Other retailers, in other venues, have to be careful the same thing does not happen to them.