Observers will say losing another 400 bookstores in America, as will likely happen now that Borders, the nation's second largest bookstore, nears liquidation in bankruptcy proceedings, is another critical blow to traditional book publishing.
But most who have worked in or around traditional book publishing in the past decade know Borders was long gone already. Closing remaining Borders stores will just be a final formality.
Based in Ann Arbor, Mich., Borders tried to follow in the footsteps of Barnes and Noble, America's largest bookstore chain, opening superstores in urban and suburban high traffic areas to claim market share through critical mass. But Borders, which grew to more than 1,000 stores throughout the country before closing many this year, never quite got there, even for a moment.
For the past five years or more, preceding the Great Recession and digital publishing age, said to be the final big blows to brick-and-mortar stores, Borders has been a lame duck. The company wasn't even really a player when it came to mass publishing because it had not ordered any meaningful stock from book publishers and distributors for years.
And they didn't pay for what they did get, in many cases.
In essence, independent bookstores bound together by the American Booksellers Association have been America's second largest bookstore chain. Borders was barely a player at all.
Borders has employed for years a churn and re-churn practice with books. They ordered small numbers of new releases, sprinkling those among back-list inventory that was placed on front-list shelves. Also, the company stretched its longevity through an out-facing display practice, buying more time by diluting inventory, and making it go farther with back list books posed as front list releases.
Little Beyond Leased Property
Mostly, Borders has had some prime leased real estate locations and some back-list inventory to slowly sell down in the past five years, and little more. So it hasn't been a question of if but when Borders would finally evaporate.
Truth be told, publishing probably won't see the liquidation of Borders, should it happen, as a bad thing at all. Borders owes most of the biggest publishers and distributors in the U.S. money and they've long since written that off, emotionally if not physically.
Barnes and Noble is the last viable source available to keep traditional book publishing alive, since that company has, through the good times and bad, properly bought stock and paid for it.
Barnes and Noble has incurred hard times of late too, as online bookstores like Amazon and red-hot digital publishing has combined with tight dollars in a difficult economy to take a toll. Barnes and Noble has greatly reduced the amount of stock it takes from publishers, and there's no signs of that changing.
The only question regarding Barnes and Noble is whether that company can survive at all, avoiding Borders' fate. The future of Barnes and Noble falls upon several keys, obviously, but one may be having Borders clear out of the space once and for all.
A Decade Late (on the Web), and a Buck Short
While Borders hasn't been much of a presence in the publishing market, any presence at all is a problem. So through the elimination of the weakest of the two, the weak one at the top might be able to hold on, buying time to do a makeover and ultimately survive. Even then, traditional book publishing and selling will never be as it was before, no matter what.
If Barnes and Noble is to survive at all, hardcover books will likely only take up a small portion of space in its stores. But small space is better than no space for traditional publishing.
The days are gone, of a bookstore with 100,000 or more titles on hand on every metro corner. Borders went out with that day, if not before. The company did not even launch its own Web site to sell books online until recently. By that point, the company was a decade late on that, at least, and already several years late in even attempting to enter the digital publishing realm.
The company just had next to nothing in recent years but real estate leases, back-list books and a sub-par brand. So very little will be missed in traditional book publishing and sales circles once the company is gone.
If anything, traditional publishing will be glad to see Borders officially go where it's been in reality for years -- gone -- since Barnes and Noble is the only real large-scale hope remaining.