Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ecrivains sans Frontieres

First of all, let me say how happy I am that the French word for writer includes the word "vain." Clever boys, those frenchies.

I got my official Borders Rewards notification of the liquidation sale. Tonight I'm going to drive down to the store where I used to work and buy a bunch of books. I've been resisting writing about the liquidation, but I thought I'd give some thoughts on what it means to me, as a writer.

It's not good. I mean, that's obvious, there are no writers for whom it will be good. But just as an example, Dead of Veridon got shelf space in nearly every Borders in Chicagoland. There's only one B&N around here that's carrying it. If there was no Borders (as there will not be starting sometime in August) that book would basically not have been available in a retail environment in Chicago. So that would have sucked. I'm not really sure what it means for my books going forward. Was that limited distribution directly tied to the series/publisher, or specifically my name? Who knows.

But in a larger sense, Borders was kind of a magical place. Bookstores have always been marvelous to me. When I was a kid we had to drive most of 45 minutes to the dingy local mall just to go to a B. Dalton. It wasn't until almost high school that we got a Waldenbooks in the same mall. I was ecstatic. On vacation my main interest was visiting bookstores that could serve my voracious needs. And then places like Borders and Barnes & Noble started cropping up, and it became less of a challenge, but I still always thrilled to walk into those places and see ALL THOSE BOOKS. In college I worked at a Crown, and then when we bought our second house we had to stretch our budget to fill it with furniture and to cover those one time expenses that come with a move, and I got a second job at the aforementioned Borders. I think in different circumstances I could have owned a bookstore and been completely happy in my life.

Well, now the local B&N has closed, and all the Borders are going away. My home town (not where I was born, but where I've lived most of my life) no longer has a single bookstore in it. Since this is Chicagoland, there are plenty of stores in driving distance, but still. It's weird.

My hope is that independents rise up in the wake of Borders' collapse. Their main problem in my opinion was that they couldn't support their square footage. Too much space had been dedicated to music and dvds, and when those retail industries fell apart (Remember Tower Records? Remember going to the mall to *buy* music?) they had nothing to fill that gap. When I was working there they instituted Paperchase, which was perennially empty of customers. It was like they walled off a section of the store and said "We don't want customers in this area" so they stuffed it with paper products. Very strange. And then they took out Paperchase, but that part of the store languished. And sometime after I left they put it back in, to no visible affect.

I can't say this any more clearly. The only way to describe the managerial style of leadership while I was there, and after, is "thrashing about." Things didn't work, they tried something else, it didn't work, they went back to what hadn't been working. But there were many problems, and I've not been following it closely enough to tell you what they could have done to save things. I have opinions, but they're made without full knowledge of the financials. Maybe in their place I would have thought that Paperchase was a great idea. Who knows.

Point is, there are fewer bookstores than there were a week ago. And while I'm sure I'll see a bump in sales as all those copies of Dead of Veridon get liquidated, after that bump is gone there's going to be a long, flat strap, fading away into the horizon. And Barnes & Noble will be deciding what the country reads, by and large.


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