During my recent trip, I stopped into a Borders for coffee and WiFi with a couple hours to kill while I was in the city. I didn’t know to say goodbye.
I have a card for Barnes & Noble somewhere, though by and large I get my books online. When they closed the Borders out in Alexandria, I had intended to stop by for clearance sale, but I didn’t have any other reason to go to Alexandria and any savings would have been wiped out by gasoline expenses. I lament the passing of Borders, mostly because it was one of only three major chains of its type. By which I don’t mean bookstore, but rather a big box retailer with books, media, WiFi, and a coffee shop. A shopping mall for adult entertainment consumers with far fewer teenagers around. With the exception of the coffee tie-in (where even there my view is a minority one), there really wasn’t much to recommend Borders over B&N. But more places is better than fewer, and two is less than three.
When I was out in Delianapolis, I was pretty hard-up to find a place with WiFi where I could access Hit Coffee as well as get some work done. I looked up some locations online, but went 0-for-4 with places either closed or closed. Then I saw a Hastings, and knew that meant coffee place and WiFi. Crappy WiFi, it would turn out, but it was better than nothing. And it was open late. Chains are helpful when you’re lost in an unknown city. Huge chains in big boxes with big signs even moreso.
Slate has a good article about Borders, and how they made mistakes independent of being in a failing industry, including one of the things I liked about it:
Borders did not diversify well. In the 2000s, it generated hundreds of millions of dollars in sales of CDs and DVDs, and it expanded those sections in its stores. By 2006, sales of music and video generated about one in five dollars for the company. But the same forces killing the bookstore also killed the record store and the video store. That revenue dropped off a cliff when iTunes, Netflix, and file-sharing networks became popular in the mid- to late aughts. Borders also failed to generate robust additional revenues through coffee shops or alcohol sales, the savior of many a bookstore. Barnes & Noble picked up the big, exclusive Starbucks contract. Borders got its cheaper subsidiary, Seattle’s Best.
Seattle’s Best is owned by Starbucks, and from what I understand they use the very-same beans out of the very-same location. But even so, I have a soft spot for SBC that I lack for Starbucks. Namely, SBC had free WiFi when Starbucks was still charging for it, so I wrote a novel in a now-defunct Seattle’s Best in Estacado. But beyond that, they may be under the same corporate umbrella and may use the same beans, but they have different offerings. The end result taste different. IHOP and Applebee’s have common ownership, but they’re different establishments.
Slate also mentions Borders outsourcing its online presence to Amazon, and failing to either outsource its eBook business or do a good job with it.
A lot of people are claiming that this is the harbinger of the end of the bookstore. I don’t really agree. It could be the end of the big box store as we know it, but I think that there is room enough to adapt that B&N (and maybe even Hastings) will survive in some capacity. Sometimes people just want to go somewhere. They don’t know what they want, but they don’t want to wait a week for delivery and they probably don’t want something on Walmart’s rack. If comic book stores can still survive (albeit barely), book stores certainly can. And while Walmart and Amazon may be cheaper than new books, there’s also an opening for used bookstores that make money selling you coffee while you peruse their selection. Used books are not only cheaper than Walmart and Amazon, but they’re cheaper than ebooks.