Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2011 Issue

Borders… $99 E-Readers and Bankruptcy

Bordersking

Borders was the place to be in the 1990s.

Two major stories have come out of America's second largest chain of bookstores, and while the two are technically unrelated, they are very intertwined. A few weeks ago, Borders announced that they were breaking the $100 barrier on electronic readers, offering a version of the Kobo e-reader for $99. Then, on February 16, just a short time later, Borders announced that they were seeking bankruptcy protection. The chain that has been in retreat for the past several years plans to close another 30% of its stores. Whether this can salvage its dying model is unknown, but I wouldn't want to bet much money on them. Ten years ago, when I lived close to a Borders, I used to regularly roam their isles. It was a wonderful place. Today, having drifted behind the times, it desperately searches for relevance.

 

Borders has made many poor choices over the years, explaining its weak standing versus the top bricks and mortar bookseller, Barnes and Noble, though it too struggles mightily. Fifteen year ago, Borders purchased Waldenbooks, once the leading bookstore chain, but whose smaller, mall-based stores has been a faster declining model than the Barnes and Noble/Borders superstore model. They expanded into selling CDs and DVDs just as those markets were about to slide into their own sharp declines. Borders was slow to respond to Amazon, slow to get into online selling, slow to get into electronic readers. They are barely more than an afterthought in online selling and electronic books today, the growth area of the past decade. Their situation would have been tough even if they made the best moves. Making the wrong ones only assured disaster.

 

According to their Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, Borders operates 642 stores under its Borders and Waldenbooks names, 639 in the U.S. and 3 in Puerto Rico. They have 6,100 full-time employees, 11,400 part-timers. With 30% of the stores closing (lists have been released), a great many will be losing their jobs. Its stock price, as high as $37 in the 1990s, and still over $3 within the last year, dropped to just pennies. It may well prove to be worthless. Their filing showed a long list of unsecured creditors who will hold preference over the shareholders even after secured debt is repaid. The unsecureds are primarily publishers, headed up by Penguin Putnam, owed $41 million, Hachette at $37 million, Simon & Schuster at $34 million, Random House at $33 million, and Harper Collins at $26 million.

 

The other recent news from Borders was the introduction of a $99 electronic reader produced by Kobo. It made Borders the first major bookstore, bricks and mortar or online, to break the $100 price point on e-readers. It is a significant moment, in our opinion. It virtually wipes away cost as an element in choosing whether to go electronic. Considering the price of new books, generally in the $15-$20 range, and the savings per book in buying electronic copies, it is hard to imagine that any significant number of readers will be dissuaded from choosing electronic books because of the $99 price. Cost, essentially, becomes a non-issue. Borders, in effect, has issued the coup de grace in a process that has virtually destroyed it. Oh the irony.

 

Even $99 is not likely the end. Prices for electronic readers will probably inch down a bit more, or they will come with credits for book buying, as they are used to steer buyers into purchasing their books from a particular source. Most electronic readers (other than Kindles) are open source, meaning they can be used to read books purchased from multiple vendors. This is true of Borders' Kobo, meaning there is no guarantee that selling these cheap readers will add to Borders' ability to sell more electronic books.

 

Elsewhere in this issue of AE Monthly is an article on Powell's Books, and their layoff of employees, attributed primarily to the growth of electronic readers. In that article, we speculate on what this may mean to sellers of collectible books. Borders and Powell's tell us that electronic readers are devastating to the selling of new physical books, but what is less clear is whether a generation raised on electronic readers will still be interested in collecting physical books in the years ahead, understanding that a collection of electronic ones is, at best, an ephemeral pursuit. This is a major question, but I don't know the answer.

 

A dozen years ago, I was a regular visitor to my local Borders. It was a welcoming environment - comfortable chairs to read their books with no obligation, get a cup of coffee, and even, on weekends, listen to a live band. I would go to their travel section to plan my summer trips. I know what you're thinking - I was leeching off of their free access to information. No wonder they went broke! Borders was sort of like the internet before the internet - a resource for free information, but in a comfortable, even social environment. And, I wasn't totally a leech. When I did need to buy a book or something Borders sold, I bought it there, rather than searching around for a better price. I felt I owed it to them.

 

There is a Barnes & Noble close to me today, but I don't go there very often anymore. I now conduct my "research" online, just like so many people buy all of their books online. I miss Borders but in the same sense I miss the Main Street shop. I am a bit nostalgic, but I don't go there anymore. Times change. Convenience, price, predictability carry the day, even though we realize we have lost something that is hard to quantify. I hope Borders finds a way to overcome its great challenges and survives. I wouldn't bet on it.

 


Posted On: 2011-03-01 00:00
User Name: ashebooks

This has been coming for a long time. I was in publishing for over 20 years from the early 1970s to mid 1990s, when I started out probably 80% of


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions