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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015

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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Alas! Borders!

It is always sad news when I read of a business closing up 200 locations and laying off 6,000 employees. When the business is part of the book ecology, the news is even sadder. But this is not a review of the demise of a bookseller. Nor is it really about Borders Books at all. Unencumbered by facts, this is more of a treatise on the changes I’ve seen in the industry.

For a few glorious months back in 1980-81, I worked at the first of the bookseller superstores, B. Dalton. In fact, I worked at the flagship store #1 in Southdale Mall in Minneapolis. It was a holiday job that I moonlighted at in order to get some money for gifts. But the reality of the situation was that it was labor in exchange for books. Like most of my book-loving co-workers, little of my paycheck made it out of the store. We saw the books first and put them aside on our “hold” shelves; then on payday dragged the bounty to the checkout counter and exchanged our paychecks for an addition to our libraries.

By 1986, the forward thinking bookstore was facing declining profits and lower traffic in supermalls, and was sold to the reigning champion, Barnes & Noble. In January of 2010, the last 50 remaining stores in the once-mighty chain of some 800 were closed. It was a sad day. But it was also a sign of the changes that have taken place in the industry over the past years.

This is not a castigation of the reading public for not supporting local booksellers (or even national chains). People change. It is not up to readers to support writers and booksellers. It is up to writers and booksellers to court readers and provide value for their reading dollars.

I love to sit and read a good hard-cover book. But I don’t value that experience enough to pay $25 for it. Nor is there room on the 63 feet of shelf-space in my office to collect any more of them.

Our job—as writers, publishers, and booksellers—is to gently ease the transition of society from one mode to another, providing the content that readers want in a form that is easily accessible to them. It is not our job to beat the reading public into submission to preserve our legacy or to advance our notion of technology.

Alas! Borders! Get in touch with what readers want and provide it. You could emerge from your cocoon a butterfly. Or a moth.

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