Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2011 Issue

No Borders:  Pioneer Bookseller Closes Down on Both Sides of the Pacific

Bordersclosing

Going out of business.

Borders is no more. The once great bookseller, begun as a small local bookshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 40 years ago, is closing all of its stores. The firm's President, Mike Edwards, issued a statement saying, "We were all working hard towards a different outcome, but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, eReader revolution, and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now."

 

Founded by University of Michigan students Tom and Louis Borders in 1971, Borders grew slowly during the first half of its life. Then, in 1992, the Borders brothers sold their successful but relatively small chain to K-Mart. K-Mart was still a powerhouse competitor to Wal-Mart back then. At the time, Borders had just 21 stores. Under K-Mart's tutelage, Borders rapidly expanded. K-Mart merged Borders with its Waldenbooks unit, the major mall bookstore at the time, but K-Mart was struggling with a myriad of its own problems in the 1990s. The large discounter decided to spin off Borders in a public offering in 1995 to focus on its own issues.

 

Borders was on the cutting edge of the latest form of bookselling in 1995, one that it had pioneered - large stores with comfortable chairs, coffee and pastries, a place for people to gather, read, talk, eat, and, hopefully, buy some books. Growth continued, more stores were opened, and other items, noticeably music, were added. Customers loved the place. Eventually, the Borders Group operated over 1,000 stores.

 

Unfortunately, as the bookseller entered its fourth decade, the book market began to change from under it. Notably, online selling, particularly in the form of Amazon, started eating into its business. Borders did not adjust. It took ages to develop its own online business, by which point it was hopelessly behind. Borders last made a profit in 2006. As losses mounted, the firm was forced to take on high interest loans to proceed, which only further weakened its financial stability. Then, electronic readers came along, a huge boon to Amazon's business, but Borders was again way, way late to the party. After years of trying to find a buyer, Borders was forced to seek bankruptcy protection in February.

 

At first, it appeared Borders might have a savior. Direct Brands, owner of Columbia House, made an offer with an intention to keep the book chain going. However, controlling creditors did not believe this was their best deal. Instead, they let the bankruptcy proceedings proceed towards an auction, which was cancelled at the last minute when it became apparent there would be no bids beyond that of a liquidator. Instead, the remaining roughly 400 Borders stores, inventory, furnishings, and whatever else it has, will be liquidated. Over 10,000 people will lose their jobs. It is estimated the final stores will shut down in September.

 

For those who have purchased one of Borders late-arriving e-Readers, there is no concern about the manufacturer going out of business. They were made by Kobo, and while this company's investors included Borders, it is a separate entity, free from Borders unresolvable financial problems.

 

Borders run was like a shooting star. Once it took off, it shined brightly for a couple of decades. It was a major force in moving bookselling from small, crowded, often independent stores to large, roomy book salons. It was a format that became immensely popular in the 1990s. As Mr. Williams noted in his statement, "For decades, Borders stores have been destinations within our communities, places where people have sought knowledge, entertainment, and enlightenment and connected with others who share their passion." With the advent of the internet, people learned to buy, connect, socialize, entertain themselves, and share their passions in front of a computer screen. Borders was no longer necessary. Bookselling may struggle these days, but it survives. Borders does not.

 

The situation is no better for Borders in Australia. The Borders brand in Australia is not owned by Borders. It is owned by REDgroup, the largest book retailer in the country. Nevertheless, the results are the same. Borders Australia went into "administration" (like a bankruptcy filing) in February, and announced in June that all of its remaining stores (nine) in the country would close down in July. No buyer could be found to keep them going.

 

Meanwhile, Australia's largest book chain, Angus & Robertson, also owned by REDgroup, is closing 42 of its stores. Layoffs are expected to exceed 500. There are 48 Angus & Robertson stores operated by franchisees, and these are expected to remain open. Nineteen other non-franchise stores may remain open pending talks to sell them. The online businesses of Angus & Robertson and Borders were sold to Pearson Australia Group and will also continue in business. For REDgroup, whose stated vision was "to be the number one retailer of books, stationery and entertainment in the markets in which we operate," and which briefly achieved that goal for books, these transactions mark the end of the line.

 

For those who cannot bear life without Borders, a few scattered stores may continue to survive the U.S.closings, though their long term prognosis remains clouded. There are two Borders in Singapore, and reportedly, those stores have been financially profitable. Though, like the closed Australian stores, they are owned by bankrupt REDgroup, they continue to operate with no indication of closing. Whether they will be able to continue indefinitely, and if so, retain the Borders name, is not known.

 

Rare Book Monthly

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    <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
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    <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
  • <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.

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