Thoughts on the Borders Bankruptcy

Like just about every author out there, I’m sad and concerned by the Borders bankruptcy. I won’t rehash too much of what’s already been widely said about how Borders corporate and internal structure was in many ways its own worst enemy. Unlike Barnes and Noble, Borders has been incredibly Romance friendly. At RWA last year, B&N managed to insult and anger everyone who attended their workshop. I was shocked by what I heard. How clueless can you be to address a group of Romance writers and be both condescending and ignorant? The reports and reactions I head about that particular workshop concern me because it’s pretty clear that either there’s no internal support at B&N for Romance or they are uniformed about fiction’s best-selling genre. Scary either way.

In a tough economy (still) no bookstore can afford to let false and sexist notions about Romance and Romance readers get in the way of getting books into the hands of readers. I don’t have great hopes for B&N if the attitude expressed to Romance authors at RWA is indicative of how it intends to manage its Romance buying decisions. I hope I’m wrong because, for the most part, at individual B&N stores I’ve had pretty good experiences, but it’s always been Borders that reached out to Romance readers and authors.

Borders Stores Closing

If your local or nearest Borders is closing, take a look at Edward Champion’s awesome list of bookstore alternatives and take your dollars there if you can.

The Market isn’t Going Away

The strangest thing to me about the Borders debacle is this: Romance readers haven’t gone away. It’s not as if the demand for romance is changed. The readers are still there. So, although it’s absolutely true that authors and, I think, in particular, mid-list authors (like me) are screwed pretty badly by this, I think it’s also clear readers are screwed, too.

The readers haven’t gone away. In the short term, they now have 200 fewer places to shop for the books they want to read. Not every reader can just shrug and say she’ll buy digital or from Amazon. Publishers will surely be slashing print runs to account for the lower print orders. (See above in re B&N. I don’t have much hope they’ll increase their orders of Romance because Borders isn’t around.) I can’t help but think that means mid-list authors will have even more trouble selling future projects. In the long term, it’s possible readers will end up with 600 and something fewer places to shop.

One bright spot is that Romance readers tend, by and large, to be digitally savvy. I’m hoping some of the sales move on-line. I expect Amazon to do well, particularly since it doesn’t place future buy orders the way a brick and mortar store does. They don’t look at a publisher’s catalog and decide to order only the already bestselling authors or authors who are lucky enough to have good publisher support. That means Amazon is a ray of hope for mid list authors.

Alas Poor Mid-list Author, I knew you Well

I’m going back to contract on my paranormal series, and I have no idea if they’ll want more books from me. If they do, they’ll surely slash my print run and the next time around, that will be used to show declining sales. One possibility is that I’ll be dropped then (if not now). The other possibility (which I think is fairly likely) is that other bookstores, chain and independent, will, over time, pick up more of the slack and that digital sales will also increase. Enough to save my print writing career? I have no idea.

Edited to add: In re-reading this, I feel like I should say that I really hope Borders comes out of bankruptcy a stronger, more efficient company. They’ve been such a positive force for genre fiction and I really hope they turn it around.

What do you think? If your Borders is closing, where will you shop instead?

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9 Responses to “Thoughts on the Borders Bankruptcy”

  1. Meljean says:

    I spread my money pretty equally between Powell’s, Borders, Amazon, and B&N (the latter only because of convenience, though — despite buying a gazillion of my own books from them (it’s the easiest place for me to buy stock for contests — they’ve never had to return my books) and talking to the booksellers often, they never carry any of my backlist once I’ve bought them out. That means they are my last place to shop for other books when I am not motivated by pure convenience (which might seem petty on my part, but they don’t inspire a ton of loyalty.) I’ve heard of other B&Ns being better, though, so it’s not a blanket statement … this is just my experience with my local store.

    The nearest Borders, on the other hand, is super-romance friendly, as is the Beaverton Powell’s (not to be mistaken for the downtown Powell’s, which is awesome in its way, but the romance section is tucked away behind the cafe like a dirty secret, or because it isn’t allowed to touch the other books. Cooties, I guess.)

    As for the future of the midlist … God. At this point, I’m glad that I have an amazing supportive editor, and contracts enough to get me through a year or two, when some of the aftershocks have settled and we’ve got a better idea of how Borders’ bankruptcy and digital formats will affect the industry. Still, it’s really, really freaking scary — and I expect to see more and more authors putting their eggs in a few more baskets (read: self-pubbing backlists or new work.)

    Which, by the way, reminds me that I could use another copy of Lord Ruin for my Kindle 😀

  2. Meljean says:

    Forgot to add — my Borders isn’t closing. Both of the stores closest to me are staying open (although the one downtown did close over the holiday season — I’m guessing the cost of leasing the property was a huge factor there.)

  3. Keziah Hill says:

    Borders and Angus and Robertson have just gone into receivership in Australia (both run by the same incompetent company). Even though I liked going to Borders to check on books and have a look around, I stopped buying because books are so expensive in Australia, (which is a tribute to our staying power because we’re among the biggest book buying countries in the world per capita, but that’s another story). The Book Depository and Kindle have completely changed my book buying habits. Which is sad because I’d like to support my local independents but I can’t afford to any more.

  4. @Meljean: like you, I tend to buy at a lot of places. My own town, though, does not have any chains. I’d have to drive through horrific traffic to get to any of them and so, actually, seldom do. There was a Waldenbooks that was not awful to get to and I used to go there a lot, especially when my local independent didn’t sell any romance at all. (From what I was told, that store was actually more profitable than most by a fairly large amount, but the landlords tripled the rent and that was it.) The Waldenbooks closed a couple of years ago. Luckily, the independent in my town, Copperfield’s, is a fantastic store and even more so now that they’ve started stocking Romance. I shop there a lot.

    @Keziah: I know Australian readers are huge for US authors. They’re really frustrated by the prices, the limited number of titles sold, and the difficulty/impossibility of getting eBooks. And I don’t blame them one bit. It’s insane.

    From what I gather the Book Depository is changing the landscape for a lot of non-US readers — publishers everywhere would be wise to pay attention to what that says about their harmful current practices. Here’s hoping that changes soon!

  5. SonomaLass says:

    The Borders close to me isn’t closing yet, nor is the one in my hometown, where I visit my mother frequently. I have felt bad shopping there lately, however, because I know they haven’t been making payments to publishers. These days I prefer to buy digital, but I won’t pay full price for a book I can’t pass along to a friend, relative or charity when I’m done with it, so I’m still investing in more paper books than I’d like to be.

    I’m sick about this situation; why is the romance-friendly chain the one that was poorly managed? I don’t like B&N as much; ours is harder to get to, has crappy parking, is hard to navigate and lacks computer terminals for patrons to use when they can’t find what they’re looking for. I also dislike B&N’s rewards program, especially since they cut it back to only 1% discount if shopping online.

    I love the staff and the atmosphere at your Copperfield’s, but I often can’t find romance there that I want to buy. And the other branches are worse, downright snooty about romance. As you say, I don’t understand what booksellers have against the biggest-selling genre.

  6. Jill Hagerman says:

    My Borders is closing leaving a Borders and a B&N on the far east side of town and a B&N on the far west side. At this point, I won’t miss the store. I have switched to Amazon as I can avoid the almost 10% Arizona sales tax and still receive the books on their release day. Since I read…a lot…I invested in an Amazon Prime membership and so 2 day shipping is “free”.

    What I will miss is browsing the romance section and the chance to pick up a book, read a few pages and ,perhaps discover a new author.

  7. @sonomalass I have the same misgiving as you in re Borders internal management/ordering issues. Sigh. And yes about Copperfields. I LOVE that store. Every time I look at their romance section I think back to the days when they had NO romance at all, and then 1 shelf . . . and I feel grateful to see a bookshelf, and then worried to see such a MEH selection.

    @Jill Yes, I find a lot of authors by just browsing through a well stocked book section. I’m glad you still have bookstores to go to, though, should the urge become overwhelming.

  8. willem says:

    B&N is changing its mind as far as romance is concerned.

    William Lynch, the chief executive, said in an interview that until recently Barnes & Noble was a nonplayer in the huge romance category, but that it now has captured more than 25 percent of the market in romance e-books “This is a new business for us,” Mr. Lynch said. “Romance buyers are buying, on average, three books a month. That buyer is really, really valuable.”

    Admittedly this is ebooks only.

    • @willem: Thanks for the comment!

      Romance readers buy, I believe, on average 5 print books a month, avid readers buy more and if they own an eBook reader, too, the total number goes up. B&N has a winner with the Nook Color. People REALLY love their Nooks.

      But think about what Lynch was saying: they’re only now realizing that Romance readers/buyers are valuable — because not only do they buy a lot of books, they also buy more than romance. B&N has its own problems, and they’re only NOW realizing they’ve missed the boat on the people who buy the most books? In the Romance community, I’ve not yet heard of B&N reaching out to readers or authors the way Borders does, and there’s every indication, so far, that B&N will continue its pattern of buying that makes those Romance readers decide to shop elsewhere for the books they want.

      I do hope this changes. As you point out, at least Romance is on the radar. But they have some making up to do with the people who WRITE the books.