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Border’s Potential Failure May be Good for Publishers, Authors

February 2, 2011

Programming Note: Exercise Wednesday has been pre-empted this week, so we can bring you this timely post about the future of Borders.

According to this Yahoo! News story, Borders could file bankruptcy before the end of this month, resulting in the closure of at least 150 stores. Redeem those gift cards now!

Other than the New York Yankees, I would never wish for a business to fail. Failed businesses mean out-of-work people. And out of work is a tough thing to be, especially when the economy’s not so good.

Unfortunately, the publishing world has seen its share of business failures in the past few years. And the biggest domino, Borders book stores, may be one of the next to fall. When I first saw Borders, in the early 1990s in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, I fell in love. Before the children came, my wife and I would spend hours at Borders.

After a lifetime of the limitations of Waldenbooks and B. Dalton, the world offered by Borders was heaven. And that’s before you considered the fact that they sold IBC root beer.

Unfortunately, the early successes of Borders business weren’t sustainable, and now Borders is among everyone’s best bets to fail. One blogger is glad, and seems like she wouldn’t mind if a few others followed. Why?

She dislikes the business model used by bookstores, who get a discounted product, then get to return the product for a full refund if it doesn’t sell. And if you include the practice of stripping (ripping the front cover off a paperback), it hurts both the publisher and the author.

She compares this practice to buying a house, trashing it, then demanding your money back because you can’t get resale value.

Although I’ve never published and sold a book, her description jibes with what I’ve read and been told.

How about you?

And as a reader, what changes would you like to see to make the publishing business more durable and equitable? How about as an author?

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2 Comments
  1. February 2, 2011 11:48 am

    Bookstores and Publishers have ended their own businesses themselves then.

    I didn’t realize the “rent” on books that bookstores put on their shelves was so low, or that instead of just that “rent” money returned, they got the right to DESTROY the stock (so it can’t be resold, whereas if it was just sent back to the warehouse/publisher it could be) AND get FULL PRICE in return.

    So when publishers want to up their side of the contract: send us back the full books, or pay us full price for what you destroy, bookstores go under. When the h*^@! did we become such a nation of financial bozos?

    What is it with people so desperate, they’ll get into contracts that are not in their best interest just because? Don’t make deals that will sink you before you even get started. Sheesh.

    What I’d do to sustain both bookstores and publishers?

    As a bookstore, I’d specialize, market to a specific segment of the population, only keep those books on hand, not worry about competing with what the different specializing bookstore down the street was carrying, because I already have my market corner staked out. And I’d send back unsold stock to the publisher unmolested, only asking for what I invested in them, the initial rental, and my shipping costs. I’d be making smarter choices about what would sell — probably listening to my customers more, rather than putting in front of them what booksellers who don’t know my customers tell me my customers want.

    As a publisher, I’d require full price on destroyed stock from any bookstore that didn’t send unsold stock back. I’d also do smaller print runs, based only on where I could place my authors’ titles rather than a random “blast out” to anyone and everyone, spreading myself too thin. This would put some value back in my authors’ words, my editors’ work, my cover artists’ work, and so on.

    Value, people. Value something other than your own vanity. Sigh.

    And start being smart about contracts. If you’re gonna sign, make sure it meets your needs too — LONG TERM.

    As for the current state of affairs, the mega-bookstore model will go under. Good riddance. Specialization is IMHO the key to survival. Find a niche, and live in it.

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