Borders booksellers has declared bankruptcy. This is a blow for all readers, who are unhappy at the loss of any bookstore and delighted at the opening of any one any place, even if there are four already on the block, like Dunkin’ Donuts. It was far from a surprise. The chain had been on life support for a while and the company’s plan to get out of trouble boiled down to praying for a miracle. Or maybe a pilgrimage someplace. But, that didn’t happen and what once was a very hot property indeed suffered the final indignity of not receiving even one bid on the crucial make or break weekend. No Hollywood ending there. So, what happened? The Scholarly Kitchen has a post in which the medical examiner provides a plausible cause of death. It boils down to screw-ups by management. There, I said it and I’m glad. Yes, the people who draw the big salaries and are supposed to have all the business acumen, derived from a steady climb through the ranks in various industries were completely at sea and utterly let down the company and the 10,000 or so employees working for it. You won’t see any cover stories about this in Fortune or Business Week, since they only profile rising execs, like those in, oh, say Enron…remember Enron. That outfit won “most innovative” or some other stupid award several years in a row. Nobody could really figure out what they were doing, but it was innovative, and “my God, how the money rolls in!” as the old song put it. So, the SK analyst hangs the burden of failure right around management’s neck. They didn’t figure out what was going on in publishing until way, way too late. They didn’t get serious about offering an e-reader, they farmed out their online ordering business to, da dah! Amazon. So a customer figures, why am I dealing with these jokers if I have to go to Amazon? Amazon has ‘other’ stores it reps for…the second hand dealers, and Borders managed to get themselves ranked with them. And they opened too many stores. But, there’s something else that doesn’t come out in the SK story. The management which, justly, catches hell was itself under tremendous stress and strain. CEOs came and went pretty quickly. Maybe once they got on board and learned what was going on they figured they were dealing with a corpse and jumped as fast as they could. At any rate, add all these things up and you get one sick puppy. B&N seems to have weathered the blast, so far anyway. But I have to say that I’m finding myself disappointed when I go in there to buy something. The nearest store is pretty big, lotsa books, but, for me at least the subject distributions are all skewed. WAY,WAY too much “Self help” and “Inspiration”, only fair history, really lousy Lit-crit and serious essay. “We can order for you….” well, yeah. I can order for myself. The gift card works that way too. Or maybe I’ll just go to Amazon.
By the way, my wife and I stopped into the local Borders, which has big signs in the windows… Going Out of Busines…40% off.. Well, no, not really. SOME, FEW things are 40% off, but most are about 10% or maybe nothing off. Things may change as the clearance goes on and the need to vacate gets more urgent. I have to say, it left a little bad taste. Caveat emptor