Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Borders Finally Pulls the Plug

(Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
Well, as predicted, they've gone and done it.

Borders finally filed for bankruptcy protection this morning and a few of the numbers associated with that move have become public:

Around 200 of the 642 stores will be shut down.

Of the approximately 19,000 Borders employees, some 6,000 are expected to lose their jobs.

The company has secured $505 million in financing to be used in reorganizing under Chapter 11 rules.

Borders shares can now be had for 18 cents each - an all-time low share price for the company.

Borders owes $41.1 million to Penguin Group, $36.9 million to Hatchett Book Group, and $33.8 million to Simon & Schuster - only a small portion of the company's total debt of $1.3 billion.

Hiring 4 CEOs in five years (none of them with bookseller experience, by the way) is not a great idea.

A complete list of the stores being shut down can be found here.   (Surprisingly, none of the seven Houston stores are on the list but Dallas and Austin get hit hard.) 
Borders always did seem to be a step behind Barnes & Noble to me and I never really enjoyed browsing my local Borders the way I enjoy browsing so many other bookstores. There is just something about the layout of the store that creates such a sterile atmosphere that I seldom spend any real time (or money) there. I can't put my finger on what it is exactly, but it's some combination of a less than personable staff and the floor plan that irks me.

But that's just me, one customer. Where Borders seems to have been most shortsighted is in never really positioning itself in the e-book market; the company never could carve out an e-book niche for itself.  I mean, come on...all of us could see the trend coming years ago.  Right?  But for some reason, the revolving door managers of Borders missed the boat completely. Does anyone think "Borders" when they think e-books? Seriously?

I hate to be a pessimist when it comes to the survival of any bookstore but I can't see a way that this is going to end well. Borders could not compete in the market place even when it was supposedly financially healthy (the company has not shown an annual profit since 2006). How is a company as financially crippled as this one going to compete in that same market place?

I sincerely hope that I'm wrong, but that's not because I particularly love Borders bookstores.  It's just that it would be a shame to see this huge chain bite the dust after it ruthlessly put so many indie bookstores out of business during the last two decades.  Is going to the the only major bookseller still standing ten years from now?


  1. It's why I'm glad why my company's going through Barnes and Noble.

  2. If I were one of the remaining 13,000 employees, I would probably start (continue?) trying to line up another job, just in case.

    I haven't had a local Borders in 3 years, and, when I did, I didn't go to it. Actually, at the time, I didn't go to any local bookstores, just the library, because I was jobless and book prices were beyond me.

    Now...I have one big bookstore in the area, but it doesn't just focus on books and its selection and prices often aren't to my tastes, so most of my new book buying happens online. I have to wait a bit longer for the books to be shipped to me, so I'm only likely to buy a book from a physical store if I feel like I can't wait. Usually, if I'm buying books from a physical store, I'm at a used bookstore buying used books.

  3. I think you just may be right. Whatever anyone thinks of amazon, they do know how to sell. I've been in only two Borders stores - one was definitely poorly set up with a rabbit warren feel to it. I know old bookstores can be like this and be quite wonderful, but this one just felt like a maze. And then the other one had too much space - big aisles, big walks between the different sections. Maybe they should have gotten a feng shui person in ten years back to make the stores more pleasant for browsing. I didn't have a problem with the staff but also I don't remember a thing about them so that's not a good thing. I did have a poor experience in an independent, small city bookstore last summer, and will never go back. The person clearly had no interest in helping the customers. It seems to me that all stores now must be all about service. It is too easy for a potential buyer to just come home and order online.

  4. I have to agree with you, Library Girl, about the surviving employees of Borders looking for a new job ASAP. Of course, that might just as well apply to Barnes & Noble employees these days - are they next, I wonder?

  5. Nan, I still can't put my finger on why the Borders floor plan doesn't work for me but it is definitely a set up that does not invite me to linger there - the way I did at Barnes & Noble this afternoon.

  6. Here in Canada we have two or three biggee-bookstore conglomerates -- Chapters, Indigo, and Coles.
    They are all owned by the same.... company.
    I hope Chapters or Indigo do not fold, because I practically live at these stores.... nestled in the Starbucks area and frequently venturing forth to buy books!
    But [back to Borders here]... my [rural-living] Illinoisian American reading partner friend says she does not really lament the closing of 200 Borders outlets -- because she never really liked the store in the first place. Neither does she like something called Walden's, which she says is a "vilification of the honorable Thoreau."
    She prefers Brentano's [which I understand has gone under] or Powell's.
    Overall, as I said -- I hope these big stores stay in business, even though I do about 75% of my book-purchasing online.

  7. Cip, it's amazing how many people tell me that they just don't "like" shopping in Borders. No one has ever really been able to explain why that is...seems to be a certain feel and atmosphere that Borders just can't seem to get right.

    I'm like you. I hate to see ANY bookstore shut its doors. I like to browse and I don't believe I will ever enjoy browsing on the net the way I do in a physical bookstore. I hate to think about how many great books I would have missed if I had not stumbled upon them in some bookstore...books I was totally unaware of when I walked through the door.